The Southern Poverty Law Center has a very cool project called “Teaching Tolerance” that we’ll be looking at today. In this project, students around the country were asked “What advice would you give the new president?”. The kids had some well thought out responses that should be considered, not only by the President-Elect, but by all of us going forward.
1. Put Aside Personal Issues for the Greater Good.
The kids who participated in this project suggested being thoughtful, and remembering that everyone has feelings, even when they are different from you. A word they mention a lot is tolerant. Usually, I’m not a fan of that word, because I feel like “tolerance” is the bare minimum we can do, but I think the kids are right in this case to ask that at the very least, we should be able to expect the bare minimum from the person who was elected to represent and serve all of us.
For the rest of us, this is a good reminder too. We need to remember that our actions affect other people just as much as the President-Elect does. In such a politically charged climate, with so much at stake, it is so easy to let conversations degrade into nothing more than Twitter storms and ugly YouTube comment chains that bleed over into real life ugliness. That kind of radical ugliness moving from the internet to the real world is becoming more and more of a concern as we see things happen from “Pizzagate” to the trial of Dylann Roof. However, that just shows us that it is our responsibility to follow the words of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high”. We can be the ones who elevate the conversations, we can be the ones who choose to stay out of the mud, and help to take the first steps to turning our communities around. We can be mindful, we can be thoughtful instead of instant in our replies, and we can even go so far as to get training in things such as mediation and community building!
2. Don’t Build a Wall.
This was mentioned in a literal way, but I think it’s also applicable in a metaphorical way. The president-elect shouldn’t build the physical wall he has talked about, but he should also stop working to build the non-literal walls in our communities and in our country that make people feel like a physical wall is needed to keep some kinds of people out.
The US has always been a land of different groups living together. Different tribes of Indigenous people, immigrants, different religions, and people from vastly different economic situations. Those people all worked hard to create the country we have today, and it has been one of the most successful democracies in the world.
We live in a time of change. Changing demographics, changing economics, changing technology, and that can be scary. To some people, the idea of a literal wall can seem comforting in the face of change. But to those of us who oppose that literal wall, we don’t need to put up additional walls within our communities to prevent discourse. We need to break down those walls, so that our communities can be safe places to exchange ideas and work together during these often frightening changing times.
3. Don’t be Prejudiced
The kids who participated in this project highlighted the fact that not only are we all Americans, but we all deserve respect, and that currently that is not how the incoming administration is preparing to treat people. Like these kids, we should reach out and continue to encourage all of our elected representatives from the most local to the federal levels to treat every member of our society with respect and dignity.
Additionally, we should examine our own prejudices. Prejudice can come in many forms, and all of them can be harmful. I know I told this story before, but it’s worth telling again, of a woman I know who posted of social media about how her older religious neighbors were targeted by young vandals after the election because the vandals assumed that the people had voted for Trump because they “went to church”. Not only is that kind of behavior not ok, but how much differently could that interaction turned out if those young people had decided to reach out to the neighbors and have conversations instead of making assumptions and destroying their property. Now, those folks are probably turned off to politics and to engagement, but if it had gone another way, they could have partnered up, and begun to get the whole neighborhood involved with powerful group action, or even just civil discourse.
But taking a moment to think and question our own assumptions we can have a much larger impact than we may ever know.
4. Keep us Safe!
A lot of issues were addressed here. Kids want women, LGBTQ people, and ethnic minorities to be able to go about their lives free from the fear of harassment or violence. Many kids also advised the president-elect to be more calm, and to keep a cool head when it comes to serious situations and not loose his temper so often. Some also directly expressed concern over getting involved in more wars, and what that would mean for families, and for people around the world and just the US.
This again comes back to us, and to being community members. Back in 2001 the phrase “See something, say something” became popularized in the post-9/11 frenzy. However, I feel it is much more applicable in situations like this. We shouldn’t just cry emoji harassment on Facebook, or frown when we see it happen. If we see something happening, we should say something. Here is a comic that explains some easy ways to quickly and efficiently get involved to intervene when you see harassment, and you can also do things such as download the apps from the ACLU to report harassment, or report it to the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League, as well as your local police. Just remember, when if you don’t stand up for other people, when you need help, no one will be there to stand up for you either, because fear will be in control.
5. Stop Attacks Based on Appearance!
This is actually not something that the kids addressed, but it was something I have really noticed adults doing, even people who consider themselves liberal, and it started to bleed through in a lot of the kids’ writing in a lot of ways which was telling. My friend made an excellent point the other day, that too often, liberals think it’s perfectly fine to insult Trump with attacks on his Orange skin, his hair, his body shape, his age, or even to emasculate him with comments about his hands and penis size. People have also made comments about his wife and daughters, and the way they look, and slut-shamed them or implied that they couldn’t be intelligent people because of the way they look. I am no fan of the Trumps, but these types of attacks are not ok. Then to know that we have started to normalize this type of talk to the point that children turn it in for school assignments, is appalling.
No one should be attacked because of how they look. No one should be made to feel that they aren’t recognized by society for the identity they recognize themselves as. No one should be made to feel diminished because they embrace their sexuality.
Honestly, there are plenty of other things not to like about the Trumps, and those would be much more productive conversations to have with kids, who are going to grow up and shape the future of this country. Attacking vulnerable populations, valuing money more than living things, refusing to care for the planet we all share. That is just a start.
6. We Know You Can Do It!
Everyone can use encouragement now and then, including the President-Elect. The kids who participated in this had a lot of positive words for the future, and while they had a lot of advise for things he could and should change, they also had a lot of confidence that he has it within himself to be the President we need.
This comes back to us again. We’re exhausted, and scared, and the future seems uncertain. But, we can do it! I know we can, and these kids have confidence in things getting better. We’re a part of that. Today I listened to Michelle Obama speak for the last time as first lady, and she had a lot of great things to say: “Lead by example with hope, never fear.” Let’s not be afraid as we go into the future and work to make things better.