Monday, November 2, 2015

Does A Safer Society Begin with Good Halloween Manners?

There are a couple of things I want to address in this post. First, regarding manners and the absolute B.S. that I frequently hear that the world is worse than it used to be. That people are worse or behave worse. That things are more violent. That it’s more dangerous for kids. That there are worse people out there. The second is, in our current society, what is our role in guiding our youth toward the trend of greater tolerance, acceptance, and safety?

First of all, do people know so little about history?
When was it better?
The Rwandan genocide?
The crack cocaine era?
The riots between police and gays in San Francisco?
The Cold War Era?
Jim Crowe Laws?
Signs that said, No Dogs, Jews or Blacks?
The Holocaust?
The people who allowed their neighbors to be rounded up on to trains and shipped to concentration camps?
The treaties that Great Britain and France made with Middle Eastern Islamic tribes for the same land so those tribes would help in WWI, never mind that those people were all promised the same land but had such diametrically opposed religious views that they would never be able to live together in harmony?
Lack of universal suffrage?
The genocide of the native tribes of the land we now call the Americas?
Mob justice of the “Old West?”
Salem witch trials?

Okay, so I could, literally, go on and on. 

Perhaps, when those who criticize today's society and today's youth look back in their lives, they see a community that had little crime, violence, and social injustice. Now, they turn on the news and see hazing, teens shooting teens in school, gang-bangers killing cops, beheadings, terrorist attacks, and abductions. That's not the world I lived in! We had more respect!

Are you sure that you, or people you knew, didn't disrespect elders, haze youngsters, abuse property, or participate in some type of unfounded discrimination? It happened and happens. Even with people who are otherwise and typically "good." Whether they're kids or adults, humans sometimes behave in ways that make others wonder if certain actions and behaviors are representative of a community or society, rather than the acts of individuals that do not represent the local or generational culture.

Despite what we see on TV and in the news, studies show a couple of things. First, that the world is generally a safer place. Second, that today's youth is more tolerant and accepting of others than their forefathers. Those things are to be celebrated. Way to go, society! We aren't perfect, but we must be doing something right. As parents, teachers, and general members of society, I hope that we continue on this path toward an expectation of a safe society.

On our path, we see things that do make us think about society and behavior. Something I observed this Halloween has made me think about kids and and how we parent them.

In some of the city neighborhoods near our house, there are so many kids out in costume on the quest for candy that there is no point in someone closing their front door - there is literally a line of kids coming and going from house to house and the line is continuously replenished with royalty and superheroes. Household representatives stand outside front doors or front gates with a bowl, allowing kids to take candy. Parents of trick-or-treaters walk along to ensure every one's safety. It's a nice system.

While out trick-or-treating with my kids, I noticed that some kids were dashing from house to house, running up to the door where someone was holding a basket of candy, grab their share - or much more - and run. No, “trick-or-treat,” no, “thank you.” Now we ask ourselves, is this a time to teach please and thank you? Or is the behavior innocent enough to ignore? When I saw JD do that, I stopped him, reminded him how I expect him to behave while trick-or-treating, then let him continue. While he probably demonstrated these manners at some houses, he may have gotten caught up in the rush and energy of the night at other houses.

Being kids, thinking about the big picture is not always part of their process. They do not see that people have taken the time to decorate their houses, to buy candy, to spend their evening standing there to provide a nice experience. The kids have come to expect it because it's all they know. It is the world we have provided for them.

And thank goodness we are in a world where it's safe enough to have such a holiday!

In the mad dash of life, what is our role as parents? Are we to hover over them, listening to every word they utter, micromanaging their actions and behavior? On the other side, do we let them go and allow them to behave as they may, allowing trial-and-error and general life experience to guide them? They take the lessons they've been taught by family, education, and community with them and figure it out.

That is where I get stuck. Are children flawed individuals who need to be molded? Are children a blank slate (the "tabula rasa" theory)? Or are they young people who are going to make mistakes on their road toward adulthood? Which way will help us continue the trend toward a safer society? Do we need to "helicopter" over our kids, or is it better to give them, "free range?"

Here’s a perspective from the other side of the candy basket. A friend of mine lives on a block that is very popular for trick-or-treating - literally hundreds of kids walk through a single block stretch every October 31st. He said that he asked kids to only take two pieces. After many kids disregarded him (hey, if the boy in front of me took a handful then it must be okay) he’d had enough and supplies were running low. He told the next kid to only take one. The kid went to take a handful and my friend took the boy's wrist, said, “No, just one.” The dad with the kid apparently gave my friend a look like my friend did something wrong. The social contract was broken. The kids were not respecting the adult and the adult was overreaching his boundary.

Here’s a second perspective. While we went out trick-or-treating, put candy in a big bowl with the note, “Take 2, please.” Wife witnessed a couple of kids loading their bags with the candy. Again, the social contract was broken.

Or, maybe I should loosen up. It's just candy, it's just kids, and if a kid comes and dumps the bowl of candy into his or her bag, that doesn't mean that the kid is "bad" or "inconsiderate." It means that, in that moment, in that situation, the kid took advantage of a situation.

We struggle to find balance. Rarely does society behave in black-and-white fashion. We try to find the place that makes sense, a place that is not just manageable, but that enables us to instill the values most important to us. For some, it may be saying, "Please" and "Thank you." Others may be more militant about other things like acceptance and tolerance. Please and thank you are important, but nothing to dedicate to an entire blog post.

My point in all of this ranting is that, as a parent, I am going to do my best to instill the values in my children that I would like to see them demonstrate. To look at people without prejudice, to be courteous for even the smallest gesture, and to forgive those who make mistakes, because we all have faults but, usually, we have many more qualities to celebrate. 

So when we see the news, we hope that we are in our safer place. We hope that we are doing things worthy of celebration, though we will occasionally do something worthy of scolding or punishment. Even further - we will do things that require others to simply move on with their own life because of the insignificance of the action or behavior. Who enjoys being micromanaged?

This is revisionist history. As I sit here, I am rewriting a previous post. I am rewriting it because it called the wrong things into question. The post was supposed to be about how the world is not worse than it has ever been, that we see things that we don't like and try to correct them to continue a trend toward a more harmonious society.

I believe that the world is a better place than it has ever been, though there are many who suffer every day. Americans have less violence to deal with than most societies in world history. We should be grateful and continue our pursuit of happiness, both for ourselves but for our communities.

So, to all of those parents who walked with their kids and supervised and ensured every one's safety, thank you. You did it for yours and you did it for mine. If it's not too much to ask, I believe that teaching sincere graciousness would go a long way toward a harmonious society. We should show appreciation for generosity. Your kids are probably awesome and will continue to be so. Children, please say please and thank you next time; show your community just how awesome and candy-deserving you are. I know you can do it. It will make Halloween great for years to come.