Adults and Children

Here’s a short quiz.


    Who is the better parent, the dad who lovingly but firmly corrects his child when he believes the youngster has done something wrong and needs to learn a lesson, or the dad who reflexively defends Junior, no matter what—the one who goes to school and argues when the teacher disciplines his child?


Most of us would choose the parent who cares enough to teach his child to distinguish between right and wrong, between unacceptable behavior and behavior that is true to the child’s best nature. Most of us also recognize that the parent who constantly shields his children from the consequences of their bad choices is not living up to the responsibilities of parenthood.


Would we accuse the first parent of not loving his child? Or would we say his willingness to do the unpleasant work—the willingness to suffer through the tantrums of the two-year-old told no, the pouting of the preteen denied a pair of too-expensive jeans, and the complaints of a grounded teenager—makes him the better, more loving parent? One is  mature love; the other is a self-centered  "he’s my kid, so he’s automatically right" attitude that is anything but.


Think about this example the next time someone in the Bush Administration suggests that any criticism of the Iraq war or American foreign policy is “siding with the terrorists.” Think about it when shrill pundits accuse those who disagree with Administration policies of “hating America” or being “covert enemies” who secretly want the United States to fail.


Midterm elections are fast approaching, and the nasty rhetoric on all sides is ratcheting up accordingly. That’s a shame—because if there is anything America needs right now, it is an adult conversation about our policy priorities, and about the qualifications of those we elect to set those priorities and implement them. That conversation won’t occur if necessary participants in the debate take the position that disagreement equals hatred and shouldn’t be tolerated. 


    Mature people who genuinely love this country will worry when they believe it is going astray. They will do the hard work of citizenship: they will inform themselves of the facts and make an effort to help correct perceived missteps. They won’t always be right, any more than a parent is always right—but therein lies the difference between patriotism and jingoism.


Let’s set some ground rules. Let’s acknowledge that people can love their country deeply, and yet have very different ideas about what is in the national best interest. We can respect the good will of those with whom we disagree, and listen to their arguments, rather than applying labels in order to dismiss them. We may leave the conversation without reaching agreement—indeed, such a result is highly likely, given human nature and the different worldviews we bring to the discussion—but actually listening to each other can be a very enlightening experience.


     Good parents don’t condone name-calling when their children do it.  Good citizens don’t resort to it either.