By Kimberly Yavorski
The recent news cycle has been unlike any in recent memory. The U.S. has been struck by tragedies, of both natural and man-made origin. What we thought we knew has been turned on end. Neighborhoods and families have been divided by talk of us versus them. On the national stage, animosity and discord have grown tremendously and name calling and mudslinging are commonplace. How do we reconcile this with the belief that most people are inherently good? How do we work to make the world a better place? We need to ensure that moving forward, we are more civilized. We need to work together toward the common good, as our forefathers intended.
We need to raise good citizens.
Good citizens understand how our government works. In college, I took classes in law, government, and the Constitution, so I may be a little more knowledgeable than most, but I believe we all learn the basics in school. Starting in elementary school, we learn how the U.S is different. We learn how we have three branches that are set up so that no one person (or even group of people) can make all the rules. We have a system that requires people to work together to make it succeed. We need to talk about these things at home as well. The U.S has set the standard for democracy, for good reason. We are fortunate to live in such a society and this is something our children should be made aware of.
We need to teach and enforce manners.
Yes, we teach them things such as please and thank you and not to interrupt when they are little, but sometimes, somehow, we drop the ball and things go awry. Maybe this is because we don’t remember our parents sitting us down for a lesson in how to communicate with others (especially those who do not see things the way we do) or maybe we think these things are taught in school. Manners, like most necessary skills, are taught, then reinforced, over and over again, until they become second nature. Using an appropriate tone of voice is one basic manner many parents struggle to teach, and is a frequent cause of misunderstandings and miscommunication. When using the wrong tone of voice, people will not hear anything you say.
We need to teach better communication skills.
Our kids should learn how to deliver a consistent message. They should learn to carefully read and think before sharing. I have seen many messages shared that, when read in full, did not convey the message promised by the outlandish headline. They also need to learn true listening skills: if you are going to answer the question asked, you need to know what the question is and not respond to what was said previously or what you think the other person is saying. Now that we have an awareness of it, we need to teach about nonverbal communication. Experts say that 75 to 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, that people read our body language, facial expressions and gestures more than they listen to our words.
We need to hold them accountable for their actions and words.
Despite the fact that so much communication is in ways other than speech, words are important; we should choose them more carefully. Especially in today’s hyper-connected world, the things we say can come back to haunt us. Despite the rhyme we learned growing up, words can hurt; sometimes they are uttered with the intent to hurt and in those times, an apology is warranted. We are responsible for the things we say and do and these things are indicative of our character. They affect how people think about us and whether they trust us. Sometimes we make mistakes and can be forgiven, but trust is a difficult thing to earn back once lost.
We need to talk to our kids about values.
They need to know what is important to us, what we value. More importantly, we need to live our values. We have to watch our own behavior. What are we teaching them when we yell at the TV, chastise our friends and neighbors who support a different candidate, when we put silly Snapchat filters on the candidates’ faces, and then post them on Facebook? (I admit, I may have done some of these, but that doesn’t make it right.) While our values say something about our character and we should hold true to them, we should not belittle the values of others.
We need to demonstrate respect.
Respecting another’s right to speak and have opinions does not mean you necessarily agree with them. Name calling is never appropriate, nor fair. It also reflects poorly on the one calling names. Only in an environment of respect will we come to an agreement that reflects the varying opinions and values of everyone involved.
Sometimes, we need to compromise.
We live in a nation founded on diversity and inclusion. This is becoming less apparent as people are feeling disappointed, discouraged and disillusioned. People are reacting by taking firm stands and demanding immediate change. At a rally in Pennsylvania last summer, Bill Clinton said, “We are living in the most interdependent age in history.” This is very true. Our world has become smaller thanks to technology and we have the potential to do great things if we work together. Conversely, we have all come to depend on others; without them, life will be more difficult. He also observed, “We have stopped talking to people who disagree with us. That is a bad thing.” It is in talking to those who disagree that we often find some of the best solutions. Our forefathers did not agree on everything and had some fierce battles before writing and signing the documents we hold sacred today. We need to work together to make things work, to make sure the generations to come understand that united we stand is more than just a motto. Our country and our freedoms depend on it.
Kimberly Yavorski is a freelance writer with a passion for learning, especially about history and natural science. She writes frequently on the topics of parenting, midlife, the outdoors, education, travel and current events. Links to her work as well as her blogs can be found at www.kimberlyyavorski.com.