Listen to The Children

Dad is preparing dinner. Mom will be home from work soon. She called to say traffic is bad tonight. Seated at the kitchen table doing schoolwork are their eight and thirteen-year-old sons. They are anxious to finish as they want to watch the hockey game after dinner. It is Wednesday, an evening set aside each week for a family dinner. It is a midweek checkup on how everyone is doing.

The TV is tuned to a national news channel where commentators and reporters are discussing the day’s activities in the current presidential primary campaigns. The father is only half listening when he hears a commentator note how he and his colleagues never anticipated the discourse among one party’s candidates could ever fall to such a low level. Hyperbole, simplistic bumper sticker responses answer every issue raised, and all of these take a back seat to on camera comment uttered to assassinate an opponent’s character.

The next question from the news anchor seemed to attract the father’s attention even more. His two sons looked up to the TV at the same time.

“How did we get to this point?” the anchor asked the commentators. “I never thought I would hear such epithets flying back and forth in this or any party’s primary campaign. Such intentionally hurtful and injurious words I have never heard from anyone aspiring to be president.”

“Dad, what is an epithet?” asked the eight-year-old?

“It is a disparaging or abusive word used to describe someone or even a class of people. It is an insult basically. Dad reluctantly gave a few least offensive examples to make sure his son understood.”

“Oh yeah. I know those words. How can they use these words when we are not allowed to say them at all? If we used those words at home or in school, we would be in trouble.”

Dad agreed to his son’s response with a warm and approving smile.

The TV next played a video of one of the candidates speaking at a rally. The candidate was shouting, jabbing his finger, shaking his fist, and screaming at his audience telling them how he was going to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants out of their country. The audience screamed their approval back to the speaker.

“What is he so angry about?” asked the younger boy.

The thirteen-year-old decided to say something. “He is just telling everyone what they want to hear, speaking to their fears, so they will vote for him. He insults or embarrasses anyone who disagrees with him. We talked about him in social studies class.”

“What did the teacher have to say?” asked the father.

“She said very little. In fact, she said her opinions were not important but the class could carry on their discussion which she would moderate.”

“Were there any conclusions reached by the class concerning this party’s candidates?” asked the father.

“Well, many had heard their parents talk about these candidates at home. Some parents thought some of the candidates’ ideas were good but some disagreed with their treatment of women, or immigrants, and sometimes Muslims.”

“What did your classmates think?” asked the father.

“We all have listened to school lectures on bullying, what it is, who it hurts, and what needs to be done to stop such behavior in or out of school. Most of the kids really agree on this. We have seen how hurtful bullying can be. All the kids believe that bullying is yelling, name calling, and the not so subtle threats to anyone who disagrees. If this was a class election at school, anyone who did this would be kicked out of the race for their behavior.”

“Then why are they allowed to run for president?” asked the eight-year-old quickly followed by “Would the wall even work? Aren’t there other ways to get into the country?”

“In our school, we studied the history of famous walls,” said the thirteen-year old. “The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall to keep belligerent tribes out of their northern territories. It failed. The Great Wall of China did not keep out their enemies. The Maginot Line did not stop the German Army. The Berlin Wall, like all the others, eventually failed. Everyone in my class agrees walls don’t work.”

The father had a question for both children. “What would you say to this candidate to try and make him understand what you think is wrong with his approach to being the president?”

The boys put their heads down and conferred in private for a few moments. They agreed on an answer now reported by the thirteen-year-old.

“Someday God will ask us how we treated our neighbor. How did we share whatever resources we had? Were we ever bullies? Did we have an opportunity to lead or teach others and, if so, what did we say?”

Mom was now standing in the kitchen doorway with a smile on her face. She did not know what was going on, but she was sure it was good stuff.