ISIS beheading American journalists. Terrorists shooting up magazine offices for religious reasons. Police officers choking people to death for selling loose cigarettes. And the rest of us trying to metaphorically choke one another out in the aftermath, via friendship-ending arguments on social media.
I just see so much fear, hate, and division lately that for the first time, I’m beginning to think we’re beyond help. You’ve heard of “too big to fail?” Well I’m becoming reasonably convinced this country is too entrenched and polarized to change. The default mentality is “pick a side,” and any mention of viewpoints that don’t perfectly and totally align with whatever side you’re on is met with more scorn. The middle ground disappeared as we sprinted to extremes, not realizing or caring that both sides are now too far away to hear all the shouting.
But mostly, I’m sad for my kids. All kids. My youth was filled with stories from my dad about politicians like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan — two men who didn’t particularly like each other but hated stalemate and party politics even more. Men who shaped the country from different sides of the fence, but knew progress was always more important than politics. But now, I don’t have examples like that to show my kids. Our leaders today are just fine with government shutdowns in lieu of compromise, because anything less than a hardline is soft. Because somewhere along the line, bipartisan became a four-letter word.
And unfortunately, society in general has decided to mirror that misguided train of thought. So to combat it, there are some things I wish for my kids. Things I need my kids to know and do. Things, I hope, all kids will take to heart when we hand them this mess we’ve created, and ask them to fix it.
I hope you value education. Not just your own, but education for everyone. It all starts there. No matter what anyone says, an education is not elitist nor should you ever distance yourself from it. Embrace it.
I hope you are steadfast in your convictions, but never so much that you’re permanently cemented in place. Changing your mind because of peer pressure or political expediency is bad, but a change of heart after considering new information? That’s important and necessary.
I hope you live life as a helper. There will be times to help yourselves for sure, but never stop doing your part for others.
I hope you recognize what’s right and always shout down the wrong. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, bullying — it isn’t enough not to do it yourselves. Stand up to it when you see it and do your part to snuff it out.
I hope you never take things at face value. Ask questions, even the uncomfortable ones. It’s better to be someone who thinks too much about things than too little.
I hope you find something bigger than yourselves in which to believe. Whether it’s religion (admittedly, I hope not) or the local professional football team (please be Patriots fans), it’s good to engage in something like that at times.
I hope you find your voices, but never forget it’s usually more important to listen.
I hope you are confident in your intelligence, but never afraid to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. You’ll always be better for it.
I hope you find love, but always strive for reciprocity in relationships. It’s all about a healthy give and take, so don’t ever travel down a one-way street.
I hope you never get so jaded you stop caring. It can be tempting at times when things look grim, but always remember a pinprick of light is crystal clear in the dark. So be the light.
I hope you do more than experience pain and disappointment in life. I hope you find a way to learn from it. Take what you can and use it to make yourself better.
I hope you own up to your mistakes. It’s not fun being wrong and apologizing isn’t pleasant either. But if you’ve screwed up, then make it right. It’s the first step toward earning back the respect and trust you lost.
I hope you’re always genuine. Sure you’ll talk a little differently to your buddies than to your boss, but always be you. People can sniff bullshit and insincerity a mile away, so just be yourselves and you’ll be seen as reliable. Never forget, people respond to honesty.
I hope you can always see the good in people. This is the one I struggle with the most, and you probably will too. The age of the Internet and individual media platforms make it easy for the idiot fringe to be heard and noticed. But don’t let perception trump reality, because people really are inherently good.
And lastly, I hope you always love like madmen. Love is fierce and powerful, so don’t bother trying to temper it. Love like you’re on fire and let the people you love know it. When you exit this life stage left, those closest to you should have absolutely zero doubt about how you felt for them.