Election provides a good chance to teach about fairness
"I’m going to throw a party on November 6," someone said to me the other day. "I don’t care who wins — I’m just going to throw a party to celebrate the election being over."
I’m pretty sure that the person who said that does care who wins. But I get the sentiment.
I, too, am growing tired of the billboards and the Facebook posts and the mass emails and the news coverage and the signs every. where. I. go.
It’s not that I don’t see the value in public discourse in the political process. I do. It’s just that by this time in an election year, the whole thing starts to feel pretty saturated.
Like most of you, I imagine, I already know whom I’m voting for — decisions I made by reading this newspaper, perusing platforms, taking time for reflection. I’m crossing some party lines, sticking true to others. I feel good about my part. And I have to say that, at this point — or any point, really — stretches of highway littered with signs aren’t likely to sway me.
But they are good for something else: Conversations with my kids.
"What’s a write-in vote?"
"Who is —?"
"What is Vote No?"
"Are you voting for —?"
Some of their questions are cues that I need to do some more research of my own. "You know what?" I found myself saying recently. "I don’t really know who that candidate is. I’ll find out and get back to you."
Some are lessons in tolerance — about being fair and respectful even when the people around you are not. "You heard Mr. — say what about that candidate? Well, I hope I won’t hear you talk that way about anybody, even if you don’t agree with them."
But mostly, my sons’ questions are opportunities for discussion. They’re my chance to talk to with them about the specifics of an election. Who the candidates are. What an electoral college is. How a two-party system works. The importance of thinking for oneself.
The answers to their questions are important. I want to give my kids an accurate picture of the issues and candidates, a fair assessment of the process. I choose my words carefully. "Some people believe X about that issue," I might say. "Others believe Y." I ask for their take. "What do you think about that? How would you vote?"
It’s not that I don’t have an opinion — it’s just that I want my sons to think for themselves, to not adopt my political views just because they’re mine. I want to be a parent who values their opinions, even if I don’t agree.
Of course, my sons have asked where I stand on the issues, and I’m honest with them. I tell them how I’m voting and why. But I also tell them that I don’t expect them to believe what I believe just because they’re my children. I want thinkers, not sheep.
But mostly I want them to come out of this season as wiser community members. Election politics can bring out the worst in people, which leaves plenty of lessons to be had. That adult they respected? The one who prides himself on his wholesome values? It’s the same one they overheard calling the opposing candidate names.
There’s certainly no shortage of teaching opportunities… including at home.
During the first presidential debate, I let my boys stay up late to watch. As we gathered around the TV, someone made a snide comment about one of the candidate’s facial expressions.
That someone was me. I quickly realized that’s not the example I want to set. "That wasn’t fair," I told my boys. "Debates aren’t easy and both candidates are doing the best job they can. Just because I prefer one candidate, doesn’t mean it’s OK to insult the other."
I hope, no matter what comes from the election on November 6, these are the lessons my children take away: tolerance, kindness and respect. And that no matter where their political alliances fall as they grow up, I hope these are values that stick with them.