Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speech quoted his dream – I paraphrase – that his children would one day live in a world where they were not judged by the colour of their skin but rather by their character.
This quote from Dr King’s speech is regularly in my mind these days, not least because of the outpouring of solidarity that came out of the horrific killing of George Floyd just over a year ago. That outpouring of solidarity has been a very long time in coming and I truly hope that we can continue to build on it. There is no room in my life for discrimination of any sort against anyone as I strongly feel that we should all try and at the very least be mutually respectful to each other regardless of our own belief systems / views etc.
Character is an interesting concept, I like to think that Dr King considered himself to be someone of ‘good’ character with a positive mindset and that he would imbue his children with the same. What does ‘good character’ constitute though – to my mind, kindness, mutual respect, empathy, sympathy, positivity in the face of negativity all contribute to a general sense of ‘good’ character.
My dream of mutual respect oftentimes comes to mind. Every day, I find myself struggling to keep the faith with that particular one and often it is referred to more in frustration than in positive thought. My children are both struggling with bullying / teasing at school. We are trying to do our best to help our children keep their confidence and build resilience and of course report incidents to the school. That it happens is annoying (sometimes extremely painful) in itself, however, just this last week I’ve mentioned the subject to a few people and the responses have been much the same – ‘children are horrible’, ‘school was miserable for them’, we seem to just accept that bullying and nasty behaviour is simply a right of passage to be endured. No matter how hard the schools try to tamp down on it, the nastiness remains.
Why? Why are so bloomin’ tolerant of such despicable disrespectful behaviour? Why do we just accept it? Why do we not strive to be of ‘good’ character? Where did our manners go? How have we got to the stage where its okay to be rude to others simply as a matter of course with no thought for our impact on anyone else?
I like to think that our little home is pretty respectful, we allow each other a say, we call out unpleasantness and being kind to each other is the modus operandi. We aren’t perfect by any means, there’s plenty of yelling, tantrums etc that go on in our house, but at base is a loving kind environment. Yet I have witnessed plenty of interactions where people simply aren’t kind and pleasant to each other even in their own homes. Is this the source of so much mutually disrespectful behaviour as we go about our daily lives? Is this why children are so horrible to their fellow school mates because they don’t see / know any different?
This actually leads me on to something else that has worried me for some time. There has been an increasing move over the years to get schools to teach children more than just the ‘three r’s’. By this I mean that more and more schools (colleges, Universities) are held responsible – and even accountable now for the behaviour of the pupils in their care. I have nothing at all against subjects like sex and relationships education being covered in school. I am just as horrified at the next person at the horrific rise in sexual abuse, bullying etc that continues in our educational establishments (and elsewhere), however, I have always strongly felt that our schools can only do so much. If children are living in disrespectful environments (of any stripe), then it is going to be very hard for them to differentiate and make decisions to go with what they are taught and against their lived experience.
We need a grassroots movement to call out disrespectful behaviour and change the way we interact with others. Our sense of self needs to be restored, self confidence should be boosted. But where on earth do we begin, how do we identify and change our behaviours. How do we stop the rot that has infested our interactions with others, how can we find our inner kindness and use it?
I don’t have the answers, but if anyone does … meanwhile I shall continue to be as kind as much as I can and teach my children to try not to absorb so much of the negativity that is around them.