Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A school yard bully

In my family we feel strongly about bullying. We encourage the kids to develop a sense of humor, but never at someone else's expense. We encourage them to stand strong on their principles, but never trample on someone else's. So far so good: they have not taken anyone else's lunch money or lunch, and they know how to win debates honestly, by exercising their powers of reason, not their fists. They also know that the truth, no matter how difficult, elevates everyone, while if they lie, they are disrespecting themselves and those they are lying to. No rocket science here so far -- this is parenting 101, pretty fundamental stuff.

Unfortunately, what they are learning from the political process playing our around so many issues in this country is just the opposite: lies and bullying get results. Look at the healthcare "debate". The bullies who paid for storming town hall meetings a couple of weeks ago are winning. The liars who, through clever twisting of the message, have manipulated the vulnerable masses into thinking that Obama is setting up death panels in the back rooms of the White House, are gaining traction. An NBC poll reveals that these sensationalized and insidious lies, instead of measured and well reasoned discussion of the actual points of reform proposals, are shaping the debate. So, the bullies are winning. What kind of a message does this send to my children?

I noticed a few years ago a trend in sports which I call the "cult of victory". This amounts to a philosophy that if you are not a winner, you are a loser. There has been little if any talk of good sportsmanship or integrity. And look what this has done to our sports heroes: there are daily shocking revelations of our most revered sports figures using performance-enhancing drugs, game fixing, felonious behaviors. While this all makes for good news copy, what is it telling my children?

We are now seeing the same philosophy play out in politics: victory at any cost. Never mind that lies diminish everyone, those who perpetrate them and those who believe them. Never mind that our current approach to the healthcare system is unsustainable. In this game of political rock-paper-scissors, a simple message filled with fear trumps a reasoned but sightly more complex argument. The only curve that is being bent in this "debate" is the public's intelligence curve. And we, the captive audience, are giving credibility to this school yard bully. What are we teaching our children?

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