People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

I’m Holding the Conch Shell

Brian and I were watching TV news last night. Being of the ultra-liberal-commie-pinko persuasion, we typically get our news from fringe organizations like the New York Times and NPR, but for some reason, we let it play.

There was a story about yet another suicide by a teen who had been mercilessly bullied at school. Another child, gone from the world. Everything he was and would be, extinguished. Another family, not just crushed but ground into a fine powder, sentenced to a lifetime of pain. I pray that they will eventually recover, but I know from my own family’s experience that the reverberations of a suicide go on and on and on.

When the suicide story was finished, the campaign ads began. Where, I wonder, did our children learn to treat each other so badly, to allow their disdain and contempt to dictate their behavior? Who taught them expressing disgust with another person’s (insert any damn thing here) is OK to do?

The two candidates for governor in New Mexico are Susana Martinez (R) and Diane Denish (D). One of Denish’s top aids was recorded during a private conversation saying that “Susana es una tejana” (“Susana is a Texan.”).  Bad enough, right? Then the Martinez camp comes out and plays that recording over and over and over and calls it race baiting (First I’ve heard of a race of Texans; someone please tell me what I’m missing.).

Those two have gone back and forth like that for months now. It’s been so bad that a local news anchor, who moderated their second debate, gave the pair a scolding for wasting voter’s time with bickering during the first debate and admonished them to do better.

They made it exactly 6 minutes during which each candidate delivered her opening statement before the bickering commenced.

Jon Barela, Republican candidate for New Mexico’s first congressional district seat, runs some of the most acutely disdainful ads. He’s running against Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich and Barela cites Heinrich’s record of voting with Nancy Pelosi as if he’s claiming that Heinrich is aligned with Satan himself.

On it goes – disdain dripping down our TV screens, stinking like roofing tar and sticking in everything.

Where, oh where, did our children learn to treat each other so poorly? Who taught them to call names? Who told them that public discourse is about destroying all the people with whom we disagree? Where did they learn that playing dirty is just the way we play?

Gosh, it’s a puzzle.

I want to know: where are the grown-ups? Who are the adults?

There is no boat full of rescuers coming to take us home. The signal fire has gone out; the pig’s head is on the stick and the beast is unappeased. We keep following Jack and chasing Ralph into exile.*

Our children are dying, in part, because we have not taught them that it isn’t OK to act like assholes. That’s a hard lesson to teach when they’re witnessing so much asshole behavior.

When did we forget how to disagree? There have always been nasty ads; politics was always a dirty business, but this election cycle has been the worst I’ve ever witnessed.

When will we learn that vilifying the “other” hurts all of us?

Our kids are the canaries in our cultural coal mine and we are failing them.

I’ll go vote on November 2. That is my right and my privilege as a US citizen and I will not remove myself from the process of governing my nation. Before I leave the house, though, I’ll make sure I have plenty of breath mints in my purse because I’ll be voting with a very bad taste in my mouth.

Here’s my call to action: let’s contact the candidates’ campaign offices, not about their platforms but about their ads. Don’t worry about their party or for whom you plan to vote. This isn’t about politics; this is about the hateful words and images in which our candidates have immersed us for months.

There is no rescue boat coming.

Edited to add: Of course, this is in no way limited to campaigning political candidates. Here’s a little adult bullying, courtesy of Maura Kelly via Marie Claire Magazine: Should “Fatties” Get a Room?

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20 comments to I’m Holding the Conch Shell

  • Adrienne – You are so right. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful post on bullying and the poor example we are all playing a part in letting our politicians provide to our kids.
    Also important, in my opinion, is doing a little self check on how we treat strangers and friends whether it’s shouting “cocksucker” at the top of your lungs when someone cuts you off in traffic or criticizing the customer service lady’s outfit when you walk away from the counter. Our children are watching, listening, and learning.
    Great post.

    • Oh, yes, so true. I learned more about the world in the backseat of my parents’ car than anywhere else in the world. Sitting and listening to them talk was an education and if they had been calling people names, that’s what I would have learned to do.

      And thank you!

  • Anastasia

    Adrienne: This is one of the nicest pieces of writing I have read in a long time…(maybe since one of your last posts!) I couldn’t agree more and appreciate your use of comparison. Too often we think children don’t understand “adult” speak and wont extrapolate from one situation to another…the truth as you state could not be further. Well done and good form my friend..please continue to write

  • I too have been reading about the recent spate of teen suicides and horrific bullying with increasing dismay and despair. And, yes I have been feeling much the same way about this awful election cycle. Thank you for pointing out the connections. How we treat each other matters.

    • Ugh. I am counting down to 11/2 like I haven’t counted down to a day since Christmas 1982. I could not be more anxious for this to be over.

      I just….I really don’t get it. How do so many people not know that this matters? That being cruel with words and actions hurts us all.

  • On an unimportant note, I seriously don’t understand the whole “Texan” thing – is it considered a positive or a negative that someone said that? And was it said by the opposition or his own aide? Does it being said in Spanish have any significance? And why, oh why in the world, did that get put in a campaign ad?

    (On a second, unrelated aside – the Spanish word for Texan isn’t Texan? Good to know.)

    But I think this post is so right about how we’ve come to accept hatred as normal discourse. When so many people become famous calling groups of Americans names and labeling them as “other” it’s only natural that kind of attitude filters into our youth.

    • Well, for one thing, the relationship between Texas and New Mexico is historically uneasy, but reasons that are no longer particularly applicable. It had to do with real estate, and it only gets more boring from there. He said it as an insult, indicating that the candidate is out of touch with New Mexican ways, given that NM is historically a more liberal state than is Texas.

      Nope, Texas is Tejas and a Texan is a tejano. Also, where in English we say American, in Spanish we are called estados unidense (United Statesian). There’s your little Spanish lesson for today. No, there’s no significance to the fact that he said it in Spanish. NM is very much a bi-cultural and bilingual state.

      And yeah, “other.” So many others, it must get hard to choose who are “we.”

  • Fabulous article. I am so disgusted by all the political ads I just want them to be over. Luckily they haven’t gotten quite as ugly here in Texas, but I’ve seen a couple. One of them appeared to accuse a candidate “aligned with Obama” of essentially communism as it showed a group of people marching in sync. SIGH.

    It has to end. Kids need to see role models, not professional bullies.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adrienne Jones. Adrienne Jones said: I have a job for us to do and it's an important one. Our kids are dying, and this is a piece of the cause. […]

  • I love it when you talk literature to me 🙂

    And as a high school teacher, I have to say, I ask myself these questions all the time. Kids can be so mean to each other because they don’t know or see any other way to be. It hurts my soul. So I try to do my part to correct the behaviors and ways of thinking. It’s a slow process, though.

    • Heehee…we’ll see what Katie says. She loves when I throw in the literary references, too!

      It IS a slow process and no matter what we, as individual adults, do, they’re getting more of the other. Parents, teachers (the good ones who care about these things), and other adults who are in a position to influence kids are up against this monolith of meanness.

  • Ooooh, very insightful! We see the same behavior with our politicians. I love how you connected the two, it’s true, our kids see this behavior by leaders, why wouldn’t they think differently.

  • Excellent post! Illustrating how these intellectually devoid political “attack ads” are really just bullying was so insightful. Sadly, it’s not something most people see. In politics bullying is actually rewarded in a way. The politician that “stands up” to/for another by delivering spouting some heated rhetoric is seen, in the political arena, as some sort of hero.

    And the article you linked at the end of your post nauseated me. I’ve been fortunate never to have read such a hate-filled diatribe before tonight.

    It sickens me to see such widespread bullying. It’s everywhere. It’s like some people have lost the ability to see others as human beings, complete with emotions and needs and dreams; instead, they seek out anything that can be classified as a “weakness” and use it to hurt and destroy. It pains me to know people (especially children!) are tortured to the point of losing all hope and, having nowhere to turn, see suicide as their only way out.

    What is the answer? How do we become human again?

  • Elissa

    I don’t agree. Bullying has gone on since the dawn of time, in every culture. To imagine that most school kids today are paying attention to elections is overly optimistic — truly a stretch. Your own excellent essay about being bullied revealed that there’s often no discernible reason for it. In my entire childhood, I can’t think of a single instance in which a kid was aware of or influenced by a local politician. Also — what’s the point here? You want politics to be nicer? Good luck with that.

  • Ah the conch…and how appropriate since we are all bullying each other until Piggy dies. Sigh…

    I actually had to refrain from flipping off the ridiculous amount of campaign ads because I would have gone into a full on crazy lady rant. The quality is terrible. The sheer number is ridiculous. I don’t even know who is running for what or in what district! I am at the point where I hate them all so equally, I might not even vote on Tuesday…I can’t in good faith give any of these idiots my vote!

    And yes, the old 80’s commercial holds true, “I learned it by watching YOU!”

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