The election is finally over. Whether or not the candidate you supported came out victorious, I sincerely hope that we, as a nation, can move forward. Not only move forward, but heal. Somehow become less divisive and more unified. And realize that our differences may not be as great as they seem.
This campaign was not only like no other in history, it also took a dramatic toll on many Americans’ mental health. In October, the American Psychological Association found in a survey that 52 percent of American adults found the election to be a “very” or “somewhat significant” source of stress. Adding to the stress, the survey found, was social media. Arguments, stories, video, comments, and images on social media that ranged from factual to hostile to inflammatory heightened people’s concerns and frustrations. A common theme emerged around the country — therapists reported that their patients felt more worried and less safe.
As a middle grade author, I couldn’t help thinking throughout the campaign: what about our kids? What are they hearing, seeing, and taking in? How is it affecting them? What are we showing them and teaching them, with our words and our behavior? What will they remember? And how will they act when they become adults…and voters?
I visit many schools and I honestly can’t think of one that didn’t have some type of kindness effort in place. Jars in classrooms to write a “put up” or “shout out” about a classmate. A wall of kids’ names who were observed doing random acts of kindness. A mural where kids wrote their wishes for a better world. Kindness Week. “It’s Cool to Be Kind.” The Great RAK Challenge. Kind words in chalk on a playground sidewalk or adorning posters in hallways. The message is clear in schools: Be kind, act kind, do kind things. This is the KIND of person you should be.
When I observe these efforts at schools and see how they impact kids, I’m always blown away by the positive and hopeful messages. And I can’t help thinking that many adults need to take a cue from kids, and schools, for that matter.
Seems to me like there’s a really confusing dichotomy. Kids are taught to be kind and helpful and never to bully or tease. Then the exact opposite behavior is displayed by some (not all) people during the campaign — insults swapped back and forth, raging arguments on social media, fights during rallies. It got ugly. And sad. How could kids possibly make sense of this? They couldn’t. No one could.
That’s why I hope we can move forward from this moment and be better. Be kinder to each other. Listen more, talk less. Certainly argue less. Next time you’re in a school, read some of those kindness walls and posters. If our kids grow up with these messages ingrained in their heads, we’ll have nowhere to go but up.
And on a personal note, because I live in Chicago, I’ll add my tearful joy to the chorus of my city on the Cubs World Series win. They brought a ray of optimism to a year when many of us couldn’t find a lot to be joyful about. The grittiness and “never give up” attitude was a balm to heal our nation’s soul. Go Cubs!
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Penguin Random House) and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House). She has a new middle grade novel coming fall 2017 from Aladdin Books. Connect with her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.