Locate Your Grace
“To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness.” - Edgar Allan Poe
It’s fall. Again. It feels as though it’s still March in so many ways. But, nearly seven months have come and passed. We’ve been subjected to the many great failures of our national leadership across many different issues. Education, Climate change, politics, health care, disaster response, racial injustice, and… the list goes on. Most recently, we witnessed a debate between our two leading candidates for the presidency. An incumbent who hurls schoolyard insults, like the bully he has always been, and the other who straddles a line between distinguished statesman of the status quo, and the unlikely hopeful and flawed hero of our liberal hearts. Please, Joe… deliver us from this particular evil.
Our children are watching. They will do mock elections in their schools, with some participating virtually in that process. Pay attention to the outcomes. Elementary school students demand fairness in their classroom elections, and they are process observers for any sign of unfair behavior. Also, they are for the most part, repeating back messaging heard in their family units. They will vote along with their family ticket with few exceptions. Allegiance is part of their growing understanding of the system in which they will eventually participate.
In the fall of 1988, I was in 4th grade. As part of an assignment, I used Print Shop to create my very own Dukakis campaign poster. It had the year, The democratic candidate’s name in big bold letters, and a dot matrix graphic of a sun coming out of the clouds. I was invested, hoping for victory with all of my heart, and then devastated when my champion (whom I knew little to nothing about) lost the election. My side lost. And in that season, I became indoctrinated in our two party system, suspicious of third party participants, and personally aligned with a political party, due in large part to what I heard from my parents at home on evenings and weekends leading up to that election.
I also remember the side eye, both given and received, from other kids whose campaign signs proclaimed loud and clear that George Bush, the eventual 41st President of the United States, was their candidate. It had begun, the line in the sand, the us vs. them mentality firmly in place. We were all 9 years old.
I continued to have political arguments for the remainder of my public education. In particular, I remember the constant ongoing debate with my friend Sarah, who was the child of Lebanese immigrants who owned several pawn shops and were much more socially conservative in their views than my own family. Sarah and I shared many non-political inside jokes and were absolute allies as we navigated the rough waters of middle school hallways, first boyfriends and attendant other firsts. We shared lipstick, homework answers, and created a library of our own personal notes. And, we disagreed on politics, which was a side dish to the main course of our deep friendship.
We lost touch in High school, we attended different schools, cheered for different mascots, and ran in different crowds. I found her on Facebook and have fond memories of our friendship, but also, am wary of and confused by her political identity. Sarah’s spouse serves in the Maryland House of Delegates, and is a member of the Republican Party. She reminds me though, that our connection, our humanity were possible even across an ideological divide that we didn’t fully understand.
Our children are watching and listening as we approach this election, the most important one in my own life up to this point. Who knows where we might be 4 years from now. But rest assured, in four years, today’s high school freshpeople will be casting ballots and navigating friendships across ideological boundaries. What then are we modeling in the next five weeks and beyond that will inform their experiences? May we not pass along the dehumanization and vilification of humans, which are tools used to “other” and oppress marginalized groups and folks with identities different than our own. Let our children know that elections can be great opportunities for identifying and lifting up our humanity, celebrating our differences, and having discussions about what really matters to us, and how to live our values into reality through the democratic process of voting. And, include our children and youth in the discussion, because they hold wisdom that we have forgotten along the way.