Under the Green Desk Lamp…
‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ It’s an adage we’ve all heard. Whether from animated rabbits, or our own dear parents, the majority of children are taught explicitly that being unkind is not the way to act in our society.
I was at a conference a while back discussing bullying in middle school, with a particular focus on cyber-bullying. The attendees were often shocked at the examples of childhood cruelty being perpetrated by and against youth these days.
Photos—often explicit—are shared around, and entire websites are dedicated to insulting one another, spreading rumours, and generally making life miserable. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a hard world for a child to grow up in.
This is especially true when we are constantly telling them that the expectations of life are otherwise—that adult society functions on the basis of good social graces, of respecting your fellow man and avoiding hurtful language. If this is how people are expected to act, it comes as a special shock to find that your peers are so steadfastly determined to undermine such ideals.
It was these thoughts which weighed on my mind as I stood in line at the supermarket after the conference ended. How can children be so cruel, and how can we teach them to act better?
The question didn’t linger very long. It was rather rudely chased from my tired brain by the glossy magazine covers flanking me on both sides as I worked my way slowly toward the register.
‘Guess whose cellulite this is’, a headline would read, and a zoomed in box drawn from a woman on the beach would reveal the unsightly lumps on her bikini-clad ass. Some celebrity had the audacity to appear in public, without the assistance of airbrushes and digital photo editing to help her. The nerve!
A man was accused of cheating. A context free photo of him hand in hand with a woman rested above a headline bemoaning his lack of values, and lamenting the inevitable ruin of his marriage.
The headlines were legion, each one attacking some vice or speculating on some perceived flaw. Entire front page spreads were dedicated to the attempted outing of supposedly gay singers, surgeries gone awry, and teens who could not afford to have yet another child.
It’s no wonder, I thought, placing my items on the scarred rubber conveyor belt. How can we tell children to be nice to each other when the clear and undeniable truth is that we cannot manage it ourselves?
It’s a savage hypocrisy. A society so feral and filled with hatred that even political debates eschew all relevant discourse in favor of painting one another as sexual deviants and money-grubbing lechers.
So what are we left to glean from the broad disconnect between expectations and practice? Do we assume that our children are stupid? That they will somehow fail to notice the overt double standard? Will they just ignore that swindling and deceit are the clear pathways to success in the job market, and that even our leaders have no qualms about saying mean things if their PR managers tell them it will get their ratings up?
Perhaps it’s not the kids who are to blame. In a society that worships the rich, adores the callous, fetishizes fallen idols and encourages its people to hack their way through friends and neighbours to climb a rung higher on the ladder, maybe such horrid indecency in children isn’t the aberration we treat it as. If these are the values we truly hold, perhaps such kids are just proto-types of the new age.
It’s a necessary survival strategy—a natural evolution.
But if our hope is for such cruelty to cease—for kids to go to school and enjoy the company of their peers, to feel safe and supported by those around them—we may consider starting the change with ourselves.
-Brad OH Inc.