Countless snippets and one-liners from former president George W. Bush’s speech immediately went viral on Thursday, but as people focused in on the political nature of the speech — as well as the claim that Bush’s critiques intentionally targeted Trump — there was one sliver of the address that absolutely shouldn’t be missed: Bush’s warning about the impact of incivility on kids.
“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone. [It] provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children,” Bush said. “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Those six, simple words, upon deeper reflection, are quite stirring. While some might have overlooked this line and instead focused on some of the juicier tidbits, it commands not only our attention, but also our responsive action. “The moral education of children” has been in deep peril for quite some time, but the insane levels of incivility are only exacerbating the problem.
After all, many of us have spent the past year lamenting the current state of affairs —and with good reason. Free speech is becoming a relic of the past on many American college campuses, political differences have turned many peoples’ friends into foes and social media has created and fostered an environment in which some people unleash horrific proclamations and swipes.
And, sure, many of us have laughed and giggled over some of the bizarre, strange and oft-times unhinged polical spats that have unfolded over the past 18 months, with scores of voters viewing last year’s U.S. presidential debates as more of WWE Pay-Per-View events than respectful discussions between two leaders aiming to secure the most distinguished position in the world.
Indeed, many of us also cheer on social media when we see our favorite pundits slay their competitors in 140 characters or less, as we like, share and oft-times add our own comments into the mix.
A lot of these dialogues are benign, but if we’re being honest, we know many of them aren’t; without a doubt, some of the statements and proclamations shooting back and forth across the political aisle go above and beyond the line of acceptability.
We’ve become desensitized to the cultural mess that we’ve created, and, while that’s tragic and embarrassing enough for us all as thinking adults, it’s downright dangerous and problematic for our kids.
There’s an entire generation out there watching the incivility unfold — young, impressionable minds that are being shaped and reshaped by the behavior of those around them. Our actions and unrestrained incivility are sending an unfortunately powerful message that behavior and dialogue that seems unhinged, crazy or morally unrestrained is perfectly acceptable.
Many will and have responded to Bush’s warning by placing the blame on Trump, the media and our overarching political establishment. And, sure, they deserve some of the blame, but the reality is that regular, everyday citizens have absolutely no control over those individuals and forces.
What we can steer, however, is our own behavior and reactions. And at risk of sounding corny or cliche: we are where the real change begins. Bush was right when he said that bullying and nastiness set a “national tone.”
And while our leaders have failed miserably to set the right standard, we are the ones who must pick up the mantle, as the sum of our parts could totally change the trajectory of our nation — all it takes is a little effort, goodwill and self-restraint.
So much of our society is broken and so many of the messages coming from powerful channels are leading all of us — and most pressingly, our kids — down the wrong path. When we allow hate, nastiness, bigotry and cruelty to become a norm, we absolutely compromise the “moral education” of our children.
It’s time we think deeper before we feverishly type and post an angry political response on social media. It’s time we become better listeners. It’s time we respect others — even those we disagree with. The children are watching. Let’s be better.