What In The World Are We Teaching Our Youth?

In this bizarre (and sad) Presidential Primary marathon, it is fair to ask, “What In the World Are We Teaching Our Youth?” The question is in fact more than fair; it is critically important.

We know that the brains of adolescents and young adults are still developing, and that they are very impressionable. They often learn from and emulate their adult role models, like their parents, teachers, and political leaders, and what an opportunity this is!

At this moment in history and in living color, they can take advantage of the Republican primary debates. They can see how presidential aspirants speak and behave, and witness how educated, recognized and experienced American leaders discuss their views on policies vital to the very survival of the country.

Let’s look at what observant young people have learned so far…

They have learned that the traditional rules of discussion and debate, respect, order, reason and rationale are to be disregarded.

They’ve learned that the atmosphere of a debate should be rude and uncivil, as well as inflammatory, raucous and nasty.

They’ve learned that substantive ideas and policies need not be mentioned, let alone discussed.

They’ve learned that ignorance, racism, sexism, bullying and lying are perfectly acceptable in debates, as are yelling, interrupting, name calling, invoking fearful images, and insults.

They learned from repeated sound-bites that all their worthy primary opponents are untrustworthy, inept, liars and dangerous. (And the other party’s candidates are imbeciles and traitors.)

They’ve learned that uncouth, uncivil and demeaning behaviors garner the speaker even more attention, popularity and support.

The young people have learned that by now the key words which they can use in upcoming high school or college debates, or in arguments with their parents and friends: “Loser!” “Pussy!” “Wimp!” “Coward!” “Lightweight!” Incompetent!” “Immature!” “Con Artist!” “Loud Mouth!”  “Crybaby!” Phony!” “Liar!”

Where are these politicians getting their supporters? Who are these voters, and better yet, why?

There is good evidence that people who are swayed by demagoguery are more likely to feel alienated, insecure, angry, frustrated and left out. This has been seen historically in the campaigns of demagogues in the USA as well as in other countries.

But I am not here going to discuss demagoguery (as I have done before), nor am I going to blame these untoward behaviors entirely on these loud ignoramuses.

No, this is the fault of a society which has become increasingly uncivil in public and private discourse. We observe a lack of courtesy and respect in stores and malls, on the streets, and while we’re walking, shopping, eating and driving.

We hear rudeness and nastiness on radio and television, where angry provocative pundits and commentators spew intolerance and vulgarities. Internet social media and blogosphere are replete with obscenities and malicious trolling. We are increasingly aware of bullying and abuse in schools, companies and in homes.

So the spectacle we are witnessing on political stages shouldn’t surprise us in the least. These buffoons are merely representing popular behaviors for the benefit of a “huge!” (word used advisedly) audience that eats it up. This raucous behavior fulfills our atavistic needs for a “show” and as well as for “blood and gore,” metaphorically.

If we are not careful, this pervasive nastiness can spell the end of civil society. We have to give attention to the effects we have on each other, or “Our Emotional Footprint.” If we don’t show each other civility – respect, kindness, tolerance and benevolence – we could continue our descent into the worst tendencies of our species, and eventually even destroy ourselves.

But if we live up to our best abilities and aspirations: civility, creativity, arts, music, science, exploration, athletics, we can achieve remarkable advances for humanity and our planet.

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