Dear Congress, our children are watching your behavior, and since they aren't allowed to call each other names or tell lies ... you really shouldn't be allowed to either.
The 1999 execution of 13 students and faculty at Columbine High School woke up the nation. Parents wondered, are my children safe? Politicians, at every level, talked about how to protect our children. We talked about gun control, violence in the media, access to mental health, and how we treat each other. We talked about it because our children needed to see us act like adults. We talked about it because we were morally obligated to do what we could to see that it never happened again.
Unfortunately, we just talked. In 2011, after a string of brutal attacks and bullycides across America, Governor Christie (R-N.J.) signed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights on January 7, 2011. On January 8, 2011, nineteen Americans were shot in Tucson. Again, gripped by horror, people began talking about gun control, access to mental health, violence in the media and how we treat each other. But this time, those topics were stifled by more name calling. Ten days after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot in Tuscon, members of Congress where back to calling the president of the United States of America a dictator or emperor and invoking comparisons of the Nazi regime.
Comparing political leaders to brutal butchers is not new. During George McGovern’s first run for office in 1956, his opponent — a sitting Congressman — took out a full page ad in the newspaper that read "McGOVERN IS FOR CHINESE COMMIES." Surprised and shaken and financially unable to defend himself in print, McGovern sought guidance from former President Harry Truman. "What should I do, Mr. President?" he asked. "Kick ‘em in the ass with facts," said President Truman. "I am doing that," McGovern responded. "Then I have nothing more to advise," responded Truman.
If we ever want to face our children again with integrity, we must "kick 'em the ass with the facts" in all our dealings, especially our public and political ones. There is no excuse for name calling. You are either on the right side of the facts or you are not. We hold children accountable for their every "gesture, written, verbal or physical act or electronic communication," yet we aren't willing to even discuss holding ourselves accountable. While coffins are lowered into the ground, we find ourselves returning right back to our old habits. Our children deserve to look upon us with admiration as we factually debate the issues facing our nation.
President Clinton said to the mourners of Columbine, "we know somehow that what happened to you has pierced the soul of America. And it gives you a chance to be heard in a way no one else can be heard — by the president and by ordinary people in every community in this country. You can help us to build a better future for all our children, a future where hatred and distrust no longer distort the mind or harden the heart. A future where what we have in common is far more important than what divides us."
The people of Tucson now return to the spot of the unimaginable to mourn, honor, and simply to shop. The children of Sandy Hook have gone back to school. The kindergartners of Columbine are now marching into adulthood. Americans heal from horror because, in the end, we trust in a "future where hatred and distrust no longer distort the mind" and that future only comes true when our politicians prefer to "kick 'em in the ass with facts" over just kicking 'em in the ass.
But, dear Congress, trust isn't only given; it is also earned.
Heather Beaven is the CEO of an anti-bullying initiative (www.nochildfearsschool.com)