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Teaching Tolerance in an Election Year

The timing of this back-to-school season is particularly interesting to me. Our children are heading back to their classrooms post-Olympics and pre-election. Social media will be a mix of first day school pics, political posts, and post-Olympic motivational/Phelps face memes. Every election year can be divisive but for me, this one feels even more so. Some of the political posts for both sides have been rather ugly and offensive. It's no wonder that it's difficult to find qualified candidates who are true civil servants. I know I personally wouldn't want to face that type of scrutiny or personal attacks on myself and my family. With both major party candidates spewing half truths or backpedaling on previous statements, it's hard to be excited and positive about the future of our country's leadership.

If you watched the Olympics, so many of us cheered for our hard working, dedicated athletes. Seeing them give outstanding performances and win an abundance of medals brought so much pride, only to then have swimmer Ryan Lochte blemish the experience by making false or exaggerated claims . We place politicians, sports stars, and entertainers on pedestals. Some of us ask our children to look at those with fame and fortune as something to emulate, but as you can see, those in the public eye are just like the rest of us; flawed human beings. Of course we can still admire their hard work, but they are NOT paid to be our children's role models.

As parents, we need to be the best role models for our children. From the minute they are born, our children observe and mimic what they see and hear. Have you ever watched a toddler put a banana up to their ear as if it were a phone and hold a full conversation in gibberish complete emotive expressions and hand motions? It's cute and very telling about how they learn, and that pattern of learning doesn't seem to change much over the years. If we want them to be a good friend and to not bully, than we need to be the friend we would want to have in our lives. We need to do our best not to bully those around us--- being impatient with the new waiter learning the ropes at a restaurant, honking or gesturing at the driver in front of us who insists on going a bit slower than we would like, resisting the urge to make mean-spirited comments about someone who sees things differently than we do. Our children see how we respond in those tense situations. Are we calm or passive/aggressive? They overhear our gossip on the phone. Some children with access to the internet see the negative posts we make about political candidates running for office, and if they don't see them, they surely see the offensive bumper stickers and makeshift signs posted around town. What if it was your child or good friend running for office? How would you feel about those hostile posts? It seems like the winner is the one that buries their opponent with the most dirt, but is that really the way to win? Is that the lesson we want to teach our children?

I want my son to live his life with our family's values. I know he will make mistakes along the way and when he does, I want him to own up to those mistakes. I want him to apologize just as I have apologized to him for my many mommy fails. I want him to stand up for what he believes in but I want him to also be understanding of other's ideas and perspectives even when he doesn't agree with them. We seem to expect more from our children than we do of ourselves. We want them to do more; be more than we are, but in the end they are simply a reflection of us and of their environment. We can discuss in great detail with our children what is expected of them but none of it really matters unless the behavior is modeled for them, and whether we like it or not, we are the models.

After the election is over, all of us will still be neighbors, friends (hopefully), and acquaintances. We will still have to work together and see each other at school functions. We may be liberals or conservatives, we may be Republicans or Democrats but in the end we are all Americans who want happy, healthy, educated children who can continue to make our country great. We may not agree on who to vote for this November but my hope is that we can teach our children a valuable lesson in decorum and tolerance. ~HZM

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