Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Children


The Children

There is hardly a week that flies past without another disturbing report on the nightly news about the increasing problem of school bullying.  Nasty incidents, that frequently seem to end in utter tragedy. It simply breaks the heart. And no one seems to know exactly what to do.
No doubt we had bullies when I was a child, but nothing ever escalated to the jagged heights upon which we are now teetering.  If anything unpleasant occurred back then, parents stepped in pretty vigorously and harmony was restored fairly quickly. We all knew what behaviour was acceptable and what was not.  Real cruelty was not something we confronted often.

Of course, our cultural influences were much different in those days.  Children did not grow up listening to the sort of vitriol that floods our airwaves now.  They never sang along to coarse and violent song lyrics that celebrate the sordid and the depraved.  They did not see so-called “reality” television shows that seek to debase and humiliate others for sport.  Radio personalities did not build entire careers on their infamous abilities to insult and incite.  News stations never screamed rumour as fact, never peddled fear and intolerance in their rabid desire to tickle the ears of the ignorant.  
Walter Cronkite never called someone an idiot.
There were exceptions of course, but in general, whatever our personal feelings, our public faces had a bit more dignity and, consequently, the national discourse was more interesting and beneficial to all.

I am not certain when it happened, what the catalyst was that caused the seismic shift to start our society off on the journey to the sad place in which we now sit.  Some say it was the assassination of President Kennedy.  A brutal jolt that forever killed our collective innocence, leading us, over the years, to gradually jettison the values we once revered as true and good.  Others say it was Watergate, and the distrust and disdain that was hatched in those years. I do know that the time honoured values of courtesy, respect, kindness, and grace seem to now be painfully absent at every turn, and never more so than in this, another election year.  

There is actually someone now running for governor of New York who claims to be basing his entire campaign on “anger”.  He has vowed to “take a baseball bat” with him to the State Capitol.  He refers to those with whom he disagrees as “leeches”, “pigs” and “wimps”.  And, worse.  
What a sad foundation from which to seek to govern.
From Alaska to Washington, in blue states and in red, when children grow up listening to adults behave in ways such as this, seeing this sort of behaviour applauded by other adults, what are they supposed to think?  How are they supposed to behave?  

Centuries ago, when ignorance and fear truly did rule the day, any sort of eccentricity or peccadillo could get a woman labeled a witch.  (I would have been in some serious trouble.) To resolve the thorny question of her guilt, authorities devised a fool-proof plan.  They would throw the unfortunate lady into the nearest lake.  If she sank to the bottom and drowned, she was innocent.  Hurrah!  If she managed to float, she was obviously a witch and was immediately dispatched to be hanged as such.  
Something about this reasoning reminds me of some of the behaviour I am witnessing today.  It truly doesn’t matter how justified we may think we are, if we cannot manage to grab a tighter hold on some basic commonalities of human kindness and restraint - if we cannot grasp the importance of doing unto others as we would be done by - then no matter who “wins”, everybody loses.

How we can expect children to behave better than their examples?
And make no mistake.
They are watching.
They are listening.
To us.


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I am so honoured to have The Atlanta Journal Constitution publish this post on their October 7th editorial page!

49 comments:

  1. I applaud your voice, Pamela. Thank you for speaking your truth and for these thoughtful/thought provoking references to history.

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  2. The NY candidate also threatened to "take out" a reporter whom he didn't like.

    I got tired of "news" programs, both on commercial TV and commercial radio, so now all I listen to are NPR and PBS. Two other news-related changes since Cronkite are that the amount of time devoted to commercials has nearly doubled, and that most of the commercials on prime time commercial TV news broadcasts are for medicines, the majority of them prescription medicines.

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  3. Oh my, YES!! You are so eloquent and I agree with every word. This situation has been deteriorating through all levels of society. I feel like I don't live in America anymore. At least, not the America I grew up in! And certainly not the country I was proud to call my own!

    I am holding on to the hope that there are still good people with good values, good teachers with good skills, good moms and dads with good parenting abilities. There are out there somewhere, but they don't often make the news! The media is too busy seeking out the haters, and the crazy, and the fanatical, the dissenters, the outrageous, and all such extremists!

    Standards must return to our society along with morals and a knowledge of what is right.

    But to tell you the truth, I am seriously afraid for the future my granddaughter and her peers will have to live in.

    I don't have much belief in higher power, or religion, or the like. About all you could say about me in this vein is that I am an agnostic. Nevertheless, I part of me is starting to re-think that whole Armagedden thing. I mean, if there is a God out there, he's got to be seriously pissed at the state of our world. Perhaps enough, to give up on us and start over!

    When you see so much anger and fear and so little hope and belief in the goodness of people, it's impossible to know how to fix it!

    Sorry, I didn't mean to go on and on. But this is something that scares me a lot!

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  4. I think about this every day. I fear for my children and for the children of others who teach and try to live by what is right.

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  5. I agree. Very eloquent and relevant and same here in Australia!!! Well said

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  6. Have just read an article in a US magazine about 4 talented kids who commited suicide after being bullied at school. What is it with America's hang-up with gay kids ?
    Now this mornings French paper tells me that Glenn Beck is mulling a run for the White House. Both for good and ill, when we look at America we look at ourselves ten years later.

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  7. A very well written commentary on the true state of affairs in this country. I don't know what it will take to turn it around.

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  8. I find we have a tremendous bullying system here as unless you are at least middle class, high profile, and well educated, people are looked down on and not often taken seriously.

    I have a bullying post to publish this week on my blog; there seems to be a few posts on bullying recently.

    CJ xx

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  9. You speak such truths. How do we stop this media cycle that alienates many and incites emotional responses without ever discussing a real issues? How do we stop music that promotes violence, hatred and anger? We say we honor freedom of speech but yet most of the time those trying to speak a truth face discrimination but we tolerate extreme vulgarity, hostility and antagonism in so many facets our society.

    I've also struggled with thinking about those who might have seen some of Tyler Clementi's postings on FB. Didn't someone notice or have we become immune to signals because of constant social media?

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  10. Thanks for posting this
    Every day should be a NO Bully day.

    Love and hugs

    Jeanne

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  11. You are so right with this one Pamela. I hate what our society is sinking down to, manners and gentility used to be the byword for the English..alas those values are long gone over here, in a land where young people don't give up their seats to pregnant ladies or the elderly, and swearing on the streets goes hand in hand with wild drinking and lewd behaviour!

    I do agree with you, I think it might well have been President Kennedy's assassination because after that things seemed to escalate. Although I must say that my husband and I were really impressed with the good manners of the American people we encountered on the two visits we made to the United States, which was in direct contrast with our fellow citizens back home.

    This is a lovely old photograph of children....the little girl second on the left in the middle row looks exactly like me at that age!

    Jane

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  12. WOW Pamela - you said it all. And so beautifully! Thank you for reminding us all that we are the examples and we set the tone for all of those chidren present and to come. What a sorry state this country and world are in-we must do better if we are to survive.

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  13. Spot on.

    We have so become a nation of bullies. We see it displayed everywhere; sports, religion, politics, education, Hollywood, at the local grocery store.

    Where is the love?

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  14. Sadly, bullying has always been a part of life and will probably continue but, I agree, adult behaviour leaves a lot to be desired.

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  15. Dear Pamela, You raise such a very interesting and relevant topic here and present a number of theories as to how, why and when this apparent breakdown in society, and the values previously held to be ones to live by, came about. It saddens me to say that so much of what you write here applies to the UK in the early part of the C21. Happily, in Hungary this is, for the moment, far less of a problem largely on account of closely knit families and far, far less in the way of money.

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  16. Hear, hear, I absolutely agree Pamela and somehow I think this slippery-slide started with the end of flower power and the start of punk rock. Everything has to be louder, more violent and depraved to get the ratings.
    Another factor contributing to the undermining of politeness crept in in the loss of respect by calling your elders and teachers by their first names.
    Dr,Spock has a lot to answer for as well.

    I seem to be getting too old for this permissive society.

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  17. Well said, and I totally agree with you. I cannot beleive what is happening in this country these days...

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  18. I just saw the musical play Camelot and its theme of whether or not a "civilized" world is possible seemed so very modern....It was nice to be reminded that the play ends on an optimistic note...


    "PELLINORE: Who is that, Arthur?
    ARTHUR: One of what we all are, Pelly. Less than a drop in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea. (He smiles. There is jubilance in his voice) But it seems some of the drops sparkle, Pelly. Some of them do sparkle!"

    We need to look for the sparkles and encourage them...

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  19. You are so right on Pamela.
    That look on the boys face seems to say it all!

    Goodness, can'y we all just get along? It does start from the top,

    So to all of them.....
    Oh Behave!

    L.

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  20. I do so agree with you Pamela/ I must say I don't remember bullying when I was at school - if there was a bully then you usually had a group of friends who protected you.

    I also agree that children learn by example and these days a certain kind of intellectual bullying/political bullying/assertiveness to shown up as to be admired. There is no wonder children behave as they do.

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  21. Bravo! Well said Pamela. I am seeing it more and more now that I have a child (teenager) of my own who has been bullied in a strange sort of way. It hurts me and makes me so very sad that it has to come to this. It doesn't have to be this way, I wish everyone else would see it.

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  22. You really hit the nail on the head. You've got me going, I'll be ranting now for hours. Our world has changed for the worst. I am in shock every day. The ignorant politicians we have is frighting.

    yvonne

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  23. Bravo Pamela, all true and well said. Children are so mobile these days that even with the most vigilant home background, they will inevitably come up against some pretty rough stuff.
    We have to persevere and hope that the values we have taught them will guide them through.
    Sharon

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  24. I don't remember any bullying when I was at school either, but then discipline was to the fore and seems non-existent nowadays.

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  25. You know, you don't really think about it, but you're right! It's sad, I guess. I mean I've never known anything else, so it doesn't seem too particularly bad to me... :)

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  26. I so agree with your post, it makes me sad and distressed to see my younger two children grow up in such society. My older ones grew up in Germany and feel already the gap between themselves and their younger siblings.
    Today all is geared to the big 'I'. It all about the self, what's in it for me, how can I be the next...model, famous actor or actress, rich hip hop dancer, skater, singer....just to name a few.
    Teen shows are especially horrible, shallow or plain stupid. It scares me and we curb TV watching, but the influences of class mates have become huge. It is really hard to instill values, which were the norm only a few years ago. Fresh attitude, rude language, disrespect to elders or others in general, consumerism, excess money play lead roles in teens lives.
    I believe the greed in our society, the run for more of everything, the super sized ego, the ueber value of success, the disregard of the plain and regular life and service to others are among the reasons for this development. I do not see a way back easily. I am afraid it will take some tragedy or a revolutionary movement back to the values, which make a society truly human. Such development in a society is a sure sign of deterioration and often ends in extreme radical movements.
    We hear the voices from the past, but I am afraid we humans never really listen and learn from it!

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  27. Hi Pamela!

    Such a timely topic! I do agree there is bullying, and it does get out of control. But I have to say, that I do have a difference of opinion. I think society has always had it's bullies. I think with media, we hear more about it now. A double edged sword to be sure. But it was really not long ago relatively speaking when it was common practice to denigrate other races and even resort to torture and killing others because they were different. 50 years is not that long in the scheme of things. I think every generation has it's turn with the shocking behavior of youth. Remember when Elvis was considered a vessel of the Devil himself with his scandalous gyrations? And those Beatles with their long hair?! They were going to lead our youth down the path of Damnation.

    And as far as Armagedon...the middle ages with it's plagues, the Inquisition, Hitler, Viet Nam....there is a whole history of horrors that come closer. We live in a relative era of peace and prosperity which we take for granted.

    I do agree that the grown-ups that have a media platform are able to get their message of hate out there much more efficiently than ever before, and that may be our biggest challenge. As a society, we are just in the years of infancy in learning how to cope with social media and all of it's affects. Interesting times to be sure.

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  28. A sad post Pamela, and the saddest part is the truth that lies behind it. Someone talked of the media being a double edged sword, - one side contributing to understanding and advancement, but the other glorifying crime and violence, disrespect and the disappearance of honour.

    As I look back to the years our oldest children were growing up I see the steadying influence of the home and school and various organization like Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and the centre of our social life, - the church.

    With the advent of television all of these gradually lost their popularity and the good influences that they propagated were lost. Now from the youngest age our children are exposed to vulgarity and disrespect for others, unless their parents are ever watchful.

    I think that TV has had an extremely bad influence on our society, but I also despair of the constant striving for a better 'standard of living' which seems to require a mother to be out of the home, away from her children and working to provide 'stuff' that our parents lived happily without. It is a high price to pay for keeping up with the Jones's.

    I also despair that people have given up on religion; on its teachings of love and moral values, and suspect that it is because many still cling to the childish Sunday School version of God, rejecting out of hand the old man with the beard (who is alien to our scientific knowledge) but not looking any further into the life of the spirit.

    Oh dear Pamela, you have opened a can of worms here, but that is good because until it is exposed to some pure fresh air there is no hope of society facing up to the dilemna we are in and finding some way of fixing it. Short of Armageddon!!!

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  29. Hello Pamela.....I wanted to tell you that I will be sending you a vintage postcard...can you email your address to vicki@vickiarcher.com
    xv

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  30. See under Jon Stewart's March to restore sanity.

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  31. Excellent post! If it makes you feel any better, I believe the bullying prevention programs are helping. My children have still been bullied a few times, but the administrators dealt with it effectively and took it seriously. Hopefully these children will grow up to use their words instead of weapons.

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  32. i've been thinking that it all seems like the decline and fall of the Roman Empire
    and then if you study history, it's really all repeating itself
    except that now we have instant and mass distribution of everything
    and more and more of us are saying and writing things without really thinking first
    when theatre was limited to play-acting we knew it wasn't real, now the movies bring strange and unpleasant things into peoples homes each night

    sigh

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  33. Yes, I'm appalled by the behavior of one of the NY state governor contenders......won't bother to name him.
    Also NY seems the epicenter of thoughtless stereotyping because of religion. Too sad.
    I do think there was bullying back when I was young, but it seems somewhat worse nowadays.
    Vulgarity seems rather popular which is very upsetting.
    Other than that, I hope things are going well?

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  34. Bullying has been with us forever but, it has certainly got worse and has changed somewhat. It is happening in every country and one wonders how it is going to be resolved, if ever. Rather a pessimistic view, I know. Our children are grown up now and were lucky not to have suffered from bullying, but it certainly went on in their school. Also, it's not only children....bullying is rife in the workplace too.
    I'm afraid that I can't see it getting any better in the forseeable future either. It is a subject that needs addressing and needs to be talked about often. XXXX

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  35. My children are terribly bullied by their bosses. They work insane hours at a crazy pace and are screamed at and called idiots, which they are not! They are barely allowed out the door to pick up lunch, and when they are, they have to eat it at their desk. Its crazy!

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  36. AMEN!! We must set the examples. We must be sure they are also taught how to behave and point out when they are cruel or hurtful.
    I hated being teased growing up. It left its scar.

    http://poetrose24.blogspot.com/

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  37. I agree with Katydid. There is nothing new under the sun. We are able to see what is going on around us more easily because of modern technology and a constant 24 hour news cycle. I would much rather live in these current times than in a day when barbarians roamed the world.
    However,perhaps a little more morality would help today's situation, and frankly, I don't think it was the Kennedy assassination, but rather much of the inane nonsense of the sixties which gave birth to a new selfishness and narcissism that continues to rule the day. In this country, we need to get back to our roots, family, faith and freedom.

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  38. What a brilliant piece! I agree with every word and as far as I'm concerned it should be printed on the front pages of every newspaper in the US and the UK.

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  39. Well said Pamela.. I totally agree it is a much tougher world we must confront these days.. it is the same here.. I suspect that bullying has been able to run rampant with less and less ability to punish [for want of a better word]... Far too much political correctness these days.. which is ironic isn't it.. considering the behaviour of politicians.. Congratulations on being published..

    Apologies for my absence but I have internet problems leaving me in exile.. xxx Julie

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  40. I must tell you what a joy your web site has given me.y Truly beautiful.
    Much thanks


    Melanie

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  41. Excellent, Pamela. I'm working on something as well but I'm glad you put this up faster than I've been able to. Last week some folks came up to me at a rally where I was taking notes & talking to people for an article.

    The swearing, shrieking, & general bizarreness should have been shocking to me. (It was awful, but I mean that after about 2 seconds, I thought, "here we go.") I waited for shrieking to stop so I could ask, what/why the heck are you yelling? It never got that far. It was clear from the beginning that they were not interested in using words & phrases in a level tone. I just thought, wow, I'm angry about things too. But, come on. And I really did just think it; there was no use in saying anything to them.

    I appreciate what Snowbrush said, btw. Threatening a reporter one doesn't like...That's the sort of thing one finds in many places I've visited or where I have friends. As in, it's a hugely dangerous job, many people are killed or injured. Many more are threatened every day. And this is the sort of thing that some people were applauding here in America.

    Yikes. (My technical term:)

    Again, many thanks.

    Susan

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  42. Congratulations on having your thought provoking post published. I think a lot of collective bullying is the fault of the popular press. They like to pick up on a small point and ridicule decent people for something as trivial as their hairstyle or clothes.

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  43. did you see ellen on this....

    she seems to be bringing attention to it too....

    i too was bullied...joined the chorus in jr. high so my mom had to take me to school and i avoided THE BUS....those girls can be mean.....

    happy to visit with you and edward today....

    kary and teddy
    xxx

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  44. Brilliant. Thank you. Perhaps there is a tiny movement toward civility, kindness, good manners.

    (I recently read a piece in the NYT talking about our general lack of morals and sensitivity. It's quite frightening.)

    You are always an inspiration and an island of gentle escape.

    xo, Tish

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  45. Well said Pamela and congratulations on being printed on the editorial page of AJC.

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  46. What a provocative post. I would love to live in a world where your values prevail Pamela but I have to agree with Katiedid. I would not elect to go back in time unless I could choose my place and situation. The conflict between good and evil never ceases but it is not yet won. I find hope in all the dear people I personally know,
    in rare blogs like yours and in all the people who respond to them.
    God bless us everyone.

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