I don’t often give Facebook credit for very much, except stealing time that I could have used doing something else. But this week I read something my older daughter posted that I want to pass along to you.
One of my daughter’s friends is a teacher of young children – 9 year olds – and lately she has been listening to her children speak in harsh and angry terms, usually about politics. The children will talk about candidates as “scumbags,” “idiots,” and “dirty liars.”
“I have had to help many kids,” she writes, “find different words to use than ‘hate’ – oh, they are using that word so often. I hate Trump. I hate Hillary. I hate Democrats. I hate Republicans. I hate I hate I hate.”
This is primary season in the U.S., and people in Europe – or at least in the small part of Europe where I live – are paying attention, mostly because the political climate in the U.S. this year is so ugly, far uglier than usual, in my experience. A great deal of name-calling is taking place, some violence has broken out in a few places, and so no one, I suppose, should be surprised that this ugliness and nastiness is being heard and then learned by our children.
My daughter’s friend, the one who is a teacher, suddenly realized that she was as guilty as anyone. Her own language had become coarser, harsher, uglier, even filled at times with hatred. And so, she made a commitment to stop, to begin using different language, to model better language and behavior for her children, those in her class and of course those at her home.
I think the reason that this Facebook post affected me so much is that I saw myself in my daughter’s friend. I too have been frustrated this political season. More than once I have wanted to shout back at the television news (and, yes, have given in to the temptation). I even broke a personal rule about no politics on my blog and posted about a candidate with whom I am particularly concerned. I know better. As deeply as I care about my country and the direction it is taking, I know that my behavior affects others. I can’t do much to change things at home, except to send in my absentee ballot, but I can control myself. I can remember what I learned in Sunday school many years ago about other people being created (as I am) in the image and likeness of God. I may find their political views abhorrent – I often do – but I must make sure that my own behavior and my own language match what I profess to believe.
As a Christian, a great deal more is expected of me. I want to give evidence each day of the fruits of the Spirit, evidence that the Spirit is working in me and changing me and making a new creation out of me. I want to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I do exhibit those qualities, occasionally, but not often enough.
What about you? Have you noticed a change in the way you speak about others? Their political views, the ones with which you disagree so intensely, do not give you the right to belittle them or to treat them as something less than children of God.
I sometimes receive email forwards from church members who must think that I agree with their political point of view. I am included in lists of what must be their like-minded friends. And frankly I am surprised by what I read. The people who send these things always seem so saintly when they are singing the hymns during worship.
Somehow – and I don’t profess to know how to do this – we need to learn a way of speaking and acting that is honest about our beliefs and core values, but that also is fair-minded, loving, and hopes the best for all concerned.
I can do better at that. I hope you will join me in trying.
(Note: I wrote something like the above as the pastor’s letter for my church’s monthly newsletter.)