There’s been a lot of grumbling lately about political correctness and about how some people are just too sensitive and don’t have a sense of humor.
I have a fine sense of humor, but when it comes to disrespecting and denigrating others, I’m not laughing.
It’s just not cool or humorous to broadcast old, derogatory, sexist, homophobic and racist ideas and language. It’s not acceptable to mock the disabled or the elderly or the young or anyone, for that matter. In fact what some might derisively refer to as being “politically correct” is what the rest of us recognize as respect and common decency.
But, hey, our Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, so they can go ahead and let their hate flags fly all they want. They just shouldn’t be put off by the backlash or whine about how their “way of life” is being threatened when they showcase their ignorance to the world. For too long the haters have had a free pass, but now they can expect some people to get up in their faces about it.
If my grandma Byrne were here, she’d set them straight by grabbing them by the ear and thumping their chests and saying, “Listen up, buddy.” And when she called you buddy, you knew you were in trouble.
What’s crazy is all of the effort we put into teaching our kids to get along, share, say only nice things about other kids, pick up after themselves, use manners, tell the truth and show respect — and then we turn around and do the exact opposite. We tolerate this insolent behavior from our friends, co-workers, cultural icons and politicians. But the old “do as I say, not as I do” way of parenting just doesn’t cut it.
Even with the double standards and hypocrisy, kids get it. And by it I mean pretty much everything that matters. Including what adults consider to be important, impossible things like relieving poverty, caring for the environment, achieving world peace and just plain getting along with other humans.
I interact with thousands of young children every year, and I regularly ask how they would resolve grown-up conundrums. Their answers are brief and beautifully simple.
“Don’t take other people’s stuff.”
“Throw away all the guns and talk.”
“Let other people go first.”
“Don’t dump yucky stuff in the ocean.”
And more often than not, I get an eye roll for asking such lame-brained questions. “Duh! You share.”
For them, it’s all really that simple. And for adults, it should be, too.
So, what happened to us? We were all kids once. We intuitively knew all these answers — not only in our heads, but we felt them deep down in our hearts and guts. And each of us learned some version of the Golden Rule through our families or teachers or religious traditions or cultural osmosis.
“Do unto others …,” Jesus said. “Love for your neighbor what you love for yourself,” Muhammad said. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” sang Aretha. “Be excellent to each other,” said Bill and Ted.
When I came into this world, I landed in a house with nine other people, each with a unique personality and distinct set of idiosyncrasies. It was a perfect — or rather imperfect — testing ground to prepare for the bigger world. Not to say there weren’t ever unkind words or a few elbows thrown, but not one of us could have made it through a day without eventually talking things out, sharing and negotiating.
But even with all those years of practice, sometimes I forget and become hamstrung by fear. That’s why I love working with kids. They bring me back down to earth and remind me that, even with all its bullies and fearmongers, the world is a beautiful and abundant place.
Reach freelancer Jim Cosgrove, aka children’s entertainer Mr. Stinky Feet, at firstname.lastname@example.org.