Do you remember the tit-for-tat fights you had as a kid? Someone hit you, so you hit them back. Someone called you a name, so you one-upped them with an even worse name. These actions usually ended in a fight.
That’s what is going on in the political scene today. Our adult leaders are leading us back down the road to immaturity and childishness. Other adults are following that lead.
Our political leaders are acting like children, name calling and accusing their opponents of being liars, and treating people as objects and second-class citizens. Because of this behavior from our leaders, we are now seeing those on the left retaliating like children by refusing to serve the president’s press secretary at the Red Hen Restaurant in Virginia. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the restaurant with her family and others who were with her. They were told they were not welcome in the Red Hen. Sanders and her party left. The incident created a national debate.
Some people have supported the Red Hen’s owner for her actions. They say Sanders got what she deserved. Sanders and the Trump administration have demeaned individuals and whole groups of people, and the owner was just giving back what has been dumped on others. There may be a time to express feelings of frustration and anger. But those feelings should go along with suggestions of “a better way” of being neighborly.
There is a problem with that attitude. I once had a friend who told me the sweetest revenge was to be nice to those who were nasty to you. I mentioned this adage to my class when I was teaching high school psychology. In response, one student related a story about a car that had cut her off. In retaliation, she hit the accelerator and passed the offending car, flipping the driver off as she drove by. Shortly afterward, she had to pull off onto the shoulder because of car trouble. The man whom she had flipped off was the one who stopped to help her. My student felt horrible. The man showed kindness in response to anger and lack of civility. That kindness burned like coals of fire upon her head. She would never forget the lesson.
Acting kindly to incivility requires a great deal of self-control and maturity. It requires that we treat others the way we would like to be treated. Being kind to others, especially those who have harmed or hurt us, comes as a result of seeing others as our equals.
To get even with Sanders and her party by kicking her out of the restaurant will not stop the spiral but will result in deeper and deeper levels of revenge. Acting kindly to evil rubs against the grain of human nature, and that’s why it is such an effective response.
Some of us have lost (or never learned) a sense of civility. I wish we had another “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on TV. This time the audience would not be children. It would be geared toward adults. We need to be (re)taught how to be kind to others. We would be instructed in how to deal with those who attack our and others’ character.
Part of the problem with our culture right now is that we don’t understand Mr. Rogers’ message: We’re all neighbors, no matter our race, religion, nationality or gender. Go back far enough into human history and you will find we all had a common ancestor. In actuality, we’re all relatives to each other. Putting people into categories and then demeaning them, either individually or as groups, is to lower ourselves to a more primitive level.
It’s highly doubtful our leaders will change their behavior any time soon. We have no control over them. We can control our own actions, though. Perhaps what this country needs is more of the grassroots approach to act civilly to each other one person and incident at a time. The sweetest revenge for evil behavior is kindness in return. This idea is as infectious as acting harshly to those who mistreat us or others.
Richard Elfers is an adjunct professor at Green River College and a columnist for Reporter newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.