We are in a period of rapid social change. It is stressful for adults to manage the many changes that seem to affect our lives, and it is especially challenging for parents and grandparents who wonder how to explain what they are seeing and hearing on TV, social media, and in their families and communities every day. This is the first of several articles for parents and grandparents describing ideas about how to manage situations by explaining things in our society to our children and grandchildren from a Unitarian Univeralist perspective. These articles will be tagged, "Explaining things to kids."
Our first topic is peer pressure.
Many members of the Republican party, while expressing private dismay at his more outrageous behavior, seem intimidated and completely unable to speak out against him (despite the fact that many of them were mocked and humiliated by him during his campaign). Those who bow to Trump’s threats do not seem to understand the axiom that you cannot accommodate to a bully, nor normalize his aggression.
But we must also try to explain to them how someone like this could have been elected to the highest office in the land, and why our country seems to have rewarded behavior that most of us condemn.
How Do I Explain This to My Kids? . The New Press. p.x
Children understand peer pressure. My mother used to say to me when I wanted to do something that my best friend, Jack Blackburn, was doing that she disapproved of, "Would you jump off a bridge just because Jack Blackburn did it?" I was ten. I got her point. I would drop my head, look at the floor, and moan, "No, mom." to which she would provide the coup de grace which was, "Well, then you shouldn't do ________ either."
I was lucky. I had a good mother who encouraged me to think for myself, use my common sense, and stand up for myself and not do things that were wrong headed. I was raised Roman Catholic not Unitarian Universalist, but Roman Catholics stress in their character formation, as Unitarian Univeralists do, the right of conscience and the acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of one's decisions and actions.
At age seven we were taught to review our conscience regularly and go to confession to admit to our Higher Power what we had done wrong and to amend for any harm we had done, learn from our experience, and get our lives on a better track. This practice, unfortunately, seems to have diminished in Roman Catholicism and is not practiced at all in Unitarian Universalism. Children, now days, are not only not being taught the difference between right and wrong, they are not being taught to review their lives on a regular basis - to examine their consciences. Consequently, we are left with people who jump off of bridges following a bully bowing to peer pressure even when they know it is wrong.
Our goal is to raise courageous and brave children who will engage in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. This truth and meaning is to be found in their conscience which has been informed by research, review, and understanding.
How and where is one to find truth and meaning when one is being pressured and bullied? First, one turns to trusted family. Then one turns to friends. Then one turns to social media. Maybe one turns to school. Lastly, one turns to chuch and religion. Family, friends, social media, school, church.
There was a time when the priority of sources of guidance was different. When I was growing up in the 1950s it was family, church, school, friends, media. Now the order of priority has shifted and church comes in last.
Why has church lost it's importance? There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is relevance. The teachings of the church have become irrelevant. The church no longer addresses the fundamental existential issues that people have to confront.
What does UU teach children about how to deal with peer pressure and bullies? How is it that a person with the character of Donald J. Trump got elected as President of the United States and supposed leader of the free world? What does it tell us about ourselves that we freely elected such a person to make decisions for us and the society we live in. How do we explain this to our children?
The simple explanation is that our society is very sick and dysfuctional. Our social values and beliefs are fundamentally immoral and antithetical to our mutual welfare. Unitarian Univeralism offers a better way based on its seven principles. It is time for us to stand up for what we believe in and proclaim our values and beliefs to the rest of the world. What better place to start than with our children and grandchildren?
The first step might be Peg Markham's question to her son, David, "Would you jump off a bridge just because Jack Blackburn did it?"
Would you vote for the Republican candidate for president who is a bully, a liar, a con man, an assaulter of women, a racist, a cheat just because your party put him on the ballot?
Bowing to peer pressue can have terrible consequences which we are living with now. We, as Americans have made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Unfortunately our children and grandchildren have to too some of whom have been separated from their parents and put in cages. Can we teach our children so that they can create a better world than the one we are giving to them? Do Unitarian Univeralists do a better job of character formation and parents of other religious traditions?