Back in the 1970s, All in the Family was one of the top TV shows and in the view of many one of the greatest TV series ever produced. It was also a ground-breaker, addressing the controversial and divisive issues of the decade. The show centered on Archie Bunker, a loudmouthed, undereducated, white middle class blue collar worker who was a bigot. Archie rarely passed up an opportunity to offend someone, either behind their backs to their faces. His absurd and outrageous remarks were both shocking and funny. Indeed, it was the comedic nature of the show that softened the contentious situations and biting dialogue, and the reactions of those who were offended and often bewildered by his odd use of the English language. Archie’s intolerance was balanced by his long-suffering wife, Edith, who was inclusive and kind-hearted, and his feminist-minded daughter and liberal-minded college student son-in-law. The latter two regularly challenged Archie’s bigotry and ignorance, sometimes revealing their own hypocrisies. However, it was clear throughout the series that Archie’s attitude and behavior were dead wrong. Through his dramatization of what a bigot looks like, Archie Bunker raised the consciousness of a nation
Fast forward to more than four decades later and today we seem to be viewing bigotry in both word and deed daily on TV and social media, including by some of the leading Presidential candidates. And it’s no laughing matter.
Our Children, Ourselves
Our children learn in school the proper way to debate, and their training does not include fabricating stories to win a point, name-calling to denigrate opponents, interrupting at will, running over the time limits and disrespecting the debate moderator(s). Yet, after students have been trained and learned to present properly they then view candidates for the world’s top job, President of the United States, routinely violating all of those rules and principles. Many of the candidates insult each other and the moderators, make up stories to suit their purposes, interrupt each other and complain about the rules. When confronted with proof that they are wrong, they do not apologize or consider another point of view; instead they dig in, offend those who dare to question them and repeat the process.
But far worse are the daily and routine falsehoods, insults and an atmosphere of intolerance for others so great that one candidate even encouraged his supporters to attack a man of color who was disrupting his rally, rather than have him escorted out by security personnel. This behavior makes Archie Bunker look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm!
What messages does this behavior send to our children? Do we expect them to abide by a different standard than we set for ourselves or other adults? What do they think when their parents and teachers educate them to observe one type of behavior and then tolerate another by political figures? Do we lose our credibility? I understand the hesitancy sometimes to speak up, but we should not hesitate to show our children that we have integrity. Otherwise, we are allowing others to become their role models, and with the current display of incivility permeating our society, I do not believe we want that.
As someone who has lived in big cities and worked in large diversified companies all my life, over the years I have lived among, worked with and become friends with people of many ethnic and religious backgrounds. And as a woman, I certainly have encountered gender bias in its many forms. And, although I was raised in the Lutheran faith I married a man who is Jewish. Our child grew up in an environment that embraced many cultures, religions and beliefs. As a result, my instinct is to include, not exclude; to welcome, not repel.
The world is made up of many different people and we can enrich our lives by reaching out to them. America has always been a melting pot of different cultures. Now is not the time for us to abandon our values of inclusion. The world is at war, some are calling it World War III. As is typical of many wars this one has already produced a great number of refugees, many of whom are young men fleeing attempts by terrorist groups to recruit them. America’s instinct should be to reach out and help them; not only is that the honorable thing to do it is also the smart thing, for this is also a war of persuasion. What an opportunity to prove to the world and the people of the Middle East that we are not the ones they should fear. Our country has become a strong, free nation by including people, not excluding them. Here, people are free to worship as they please, pursue the lifestyles and careers that they wish and be free from search and seizure by their government — because our government is of the people, for the people and by the people.
What Freedom of Speech Means
And, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there are limitations. For example, we are also expected to respect others’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, freedom of speech does not include the right to incite actions that might harm others, to create and disseminate obscene materials, to burn draft cards in an anti-war protest (although burning the flag in protest is legal) or to slander or libel someone.
But freedom of speech does include using offensive words and phrases to make political points. But, that is where knowing the proper way to conduct oneself becomes important. While politicians can behave in revolting ways, if employees did so on the job with their managers, coworkers or clients they would be subject to dismissal, or if not fired they could find their careers seriously stalled. Thus, while we have certain freedoms we should not abuse them at the expense of others. That is the basis of respect.
Holiday Season 2015
In past years I have extolled the benefits of being inclusive, thoughtful and considerate to others during the holiday season. And, I believe that now more than ever we need to show empathy toward others and their beliefs and observances, whether they are religious, cultural, secular or even non-existent. Opening our hearts and minds to both our differences and similarities will make us richer and stronger. Closing ourselves off from others because they look or speak differently from us, or come from a war-torn country, or have different lifestyles or opinions makes us poorer and weaker. I know which I prefer.
To those who will be celebrating soon, Happy Hanukkah!
Until next time,
Note: The Wedding Series will continue on January 4!