“My candle was nearly burnt out,
when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light,
I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open.”
~ Frankenstein, Chapter 5, by Mary Shelley
This year as Halloween approaches we find ourselves facing a terror that surpasses the usual seasonal frights of Michael Myers, werewolves, ghosts, poltergeist and vampires: the Presidential election season.
For many of us, the shocks we have received are akin to the horror that Dr. Frankenstein felt about the creature he had created. We’ve watched with revulsion as our modern-day monster of incivility, bullying, intimidation and hatred has opened its eye and been unleashed upon our nation.
As my blog focuses on the Three E’s — Etiquette, Ethics and Empathy — I have framed the frightening and deeply disturbing election behavior we have observed in that context.
The basis of etiquette is respect. Sure, we’re accustomed to seeing intense debates and plenty of “negative” advertising during election years, some candidates and campaigns playing dirtier than others. But this time around one candidate has sunk to a new low, casting aside all civility and restraint toward his opponents as well as entire groups of people — insulting them based on their gender, country of origin, skin color, religion, disabilities, physical attractiveness and other factors.
The incivility demonstrated has made many long for the wit and statesmanship of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan and Clinton, regardless of whether they agreed with their positions on the issues or not. Even the feisty and “plain spoken” Harry Truman knew how to be fiery while remaining decorous. Thankfully, Millennials have been exposed to the dignified manners of President Barack Obama, Senator John McCain, Governor John Kasich, Senator Bernie Sanders, Governor Jennifer Granholm, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and others who, despite their differences with other patriots, comport themselves appropriately. No one is perfect and we don’t have to agree with an individual or party to demonstrate respect and good manners toward them.
But in 2016, a time when employers, colleges, high schools, elementary and pre-schools and parents are struggling against the scourge of bullying and discrimination, we are confronted with the most embarrassing and unseemly behavior by a Presidential candidate in the 240-year history of our country. Name-calling, intimidation and unabashedly spreading falsehoods are behaviors that are opposed and discouraged by parents, teachers, employers and everyone who has been working to eradicate bullying in school, on campus and in the workplace.
And for those of us who consult with, coach and train students and young professionals in business and social etiquette to help them advance personally, emotionally and professionally, the outrageous displays and lack of decency exhibited this election year have proved to be a nightmare.
Candidates for political office frequently stretch the truth, make unrealistic claims and attack their opponents. The exception this time around is the ethical line that has been crossed, which has caused many to cry, “enough is enough!”
A candidate steps over the ethical line when he vows to prosecute and jail his opponent should he win the election, publicly encourages a foreign nation to launch a cyber attack on the U.S., makes suggestive comments at rallies that his opponent can be stopped by physical harm and incites supporters at rallies to behave violently toward detractors.
If that weren’t enough, the candidate repeatedly accuses the American electoral system of being “rigged,” refuses to affirm that he would accept the results of the election should he lose, and urges his supporters to be “election observers,” which translated means use intimidation and racial profiling to discourage voters from freely casting their ballots. These behaviors violate the very underpinning of U.S. democracy. One of the hallmarks of the American way of government is the peaceful transfer of authority when a new President, or any other official, is elected.
As such, it is a time-honored practice that the losing candidate graciously calls the winning candidate to offer congratulations and support, and then makes a concession speech to the American people. Throughout our history, even in the hardest-fought campaigns the losing candidates have shown grace when conceding defeat, even when the election results have been contested. Here are some examples of the concession speeches given by Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956), Richard Nixon (1960), George McGovern (1972) Ronald Reagan (1976), Walter Mondale (1984), Michael Dukakis (1988), Al Gore (2000), Hillary Clinton (2008) and John McCain (2008), among others. (Note: Failing to concede a loss would not trigger a Constitutional crisis, but it would violate a treasured and comforting tradition.)
Other unethical actions include making repeated and foolish false statements about one’s opponent and critics; violating the First Amendment by banning certain media organizations from his rallies; refusing to submit to the best practices of Presidential candidates, such as releasing tax returns; denying statements made when they clearly have been documented on audio and video tapes; verbally attacking and frivolously threatening to sue this media organization and that person; and taking up the time of citizens with blathering about nonsensical topics instead of addressing the issues and one’s solutions to problems.
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place,” says best-selling author of books on business, work and behavior Daniel H. Pink.
Empathy for others is essential in leaders whether one is a CEO in the workplace; teacher or professor who works with children, teenagers and young adults; parent who rears a child or a United States elected official who is responsible for the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of all citizens.
The concept of empathy was also clearly and simply stated by Jesus of Nazareth in the Bible (Matthew 22:39/KJV): “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”; most schoolchildren know this as The Golden Rule.
Empathy is one of the basics that parents teach their children and teachers reinforce when they encourage children to “share” and be kind and respectful to adults and other children. One of my favorite groups, Crosby, Stills & Nash, performed one of the all-time parent-child empathy songs, “Teach Your Children Well.”
And, yet, in the face of societal efforts to combat bullying, which often results from a lack of empathy, along comes a Presidential candidate that brings new meaning to the “bully” pulpit, commands 24/7 media time and exposes us all and our children and young people to name-calling, threats, accusations, slanderous statements and other untruths, bigoted declarations and other dishonorable behavior and language that rear its ugly heads like a hydra.
It is this absence of empathy that causes a powerful individual to declare that he will deport all Mexican and other south-of-the-border undocumented immigrants without thought to ripping apart families that are contributing to American society or causing children who were born here to leave their schools, friends and country with their undocumented parents; banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. for any reason; calling women names, judging them by their looks and being caught on tape saying he is allowed to sexually assault women because he is famous; branding a respected American judge of Mexican decent a “hater” and accusing him of ruling against him in a court action because he is “Mexican”; denouncing Muslim-American parents of a fallen American soldier because they question his understanding of the U.S. Constitution; verbally attacking women who accuse him of sexual abuse; mocking a disabled reporter with whom he disagreed; and most recently calling his general election opponent a “nasty woman” and undocumented immigrants “bad hombres.” (The latter two name-calling incidents have resulted in a backlash against the candidate, launching a Twitterfest and a cottage industry of buttons, tee-shirts, mugs, etc.)
“When They Go Low, We Go High”
What do we do to counter the damage inflicted on our society by this candidate? Here is what I am doing and will continue to do:
- Carry on teaching the tenets of etiquette, respect, kindness and other proper behaviors and protocols that one must use in his or her personal and professional lives.
- Use the candidate’s bad behavior as an object lesson in teaching how not to behave, manage, achieve success, treat others or win, and show how such behavior and words deviate from tried and true societal norms and best practices.
- Speak up and speak out about such bad behavior whenever it is encountered, and comment about it on social media.
- Contact my elected officials often to convey my feelings and opinions about issues but also about behaviors.
- Adhere to First Lady Michelle Obama’s code: “When they go low, we go high.”
- Refuse to be bullied or intimidated, while maintaining my dignity and confidence.
- Use my vote as an American to make the most profound statement of all.
I’d really like to get back to being scared instead of ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night.
Until next time,
P.S. Don’t forget to register to vote if there is still
time in your state. This New York Times article
tells you in which states you still have time to
register. Don’t delay; exercise your precious right