An eighth grade girl had a concussion and dropped her books at school. An eighth grade boy walked by her and laughed at her in front of his friends. Did any of them stop to help her? No.
As parents, we’re mortified to know our sons and daughters are going to school with people like this. Yet, we turn on the TV and see Trump mocking Clinton for stumbling when she’s ill.
How are we supposed to instill the value of treating people with dignity into our children when they see high profile leaders behaving like bad kindergartners?
Indeed, “the Trump effect” has been identified as a cause of bad behavior at school, but mean behavior is much more pervasive than that. Reality TV is the archetypal example of mean behavior in the popular media, with Trump as one of the meanest television hosts. But the contestants themselves are goaded on to be mean too.
Even seemingly benign kids’ shows on the Disney Channel turn mean behavior into fodder for sitcoms. Jessie is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, presenting comedy in the form of a 12-year-old rich girl belittling her nanny for wearing inexpensive clothes.
Albert Bandura’s famous 1960s Bobo doll experiment illustrated how children learn aggressive behavior by observing adults behaving aggressively. In the experiment, children tended to imitate an adult who was praised for beating up an inflatable Bobo doll.
Whether fiction or reality, on TV or at home, kids pick up aggressive behavior from the adults they see modeling it. Therefore, it’s up to us, as adults, to model respect and dignity if we want children to learn it. We cannot rely on schools to teach it to them; we must show it to them.
This means we have to check our own behavior. What are we saying? How are we treating others? What are we watching and laughing at? Are we calling others on it when they disrespect someone?
Donna Hicks wrote the book on dignity, with that very name. She defines “dignity” as “our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it.” She contrasts dignity with respect, saying respect is earned through one’s actions. In other words, people don’t have to earn dignity; it’s inherent in being human.
“The desire for dignity is universal and powerful. It is a motivating force behind all human interaction—in families, in communities, in the business world, and in relationships at the international level. When dignity is violated, the response is likely to involve aggression, even violence, hatred, and vengeance.” –Donna Hicks, Ph.D.
It doesn’t have to be an “us vs. them” world out there. If we honor that inherent desire for dignity as we interact with people, we will likely get it back. Even if we don’t, we’ll be teaching the next generation of leaders how to treat others with dignity for the future safety of our world. If we don’t start, bad things are likely to happen.