Turn on the TV or radio. Pick up a newspaper, or surf the web. You cannot avoid it. Adults behaving badly. I’m not referring to criminal, horrific, evil behavior, although you will certainly see that. I’m thinking of the behavior we might call childish or immature – name calling, cheating, not following the rules, being defensive and shirking responsibility, throwing tantrums. The problem is, adults are engaging in the very behaviors they punish children for exhibiting.
If you have ever been to a little league game you know the penalties for unsportsmanlike behavior. Children learn that a batter who, in anger or excitement, throws his bat, is automatically out. Then they see tv coverage of professional athletes who throw more than bats. They throw punches. Occasionally they throw an 80+ mile an hour ball at a batter. What are the consequences?
In classrooms, from kindergarten through graduate school, students are taught not to cheat, to be honest, to study hard to earn their grades. In the adult world there are loopholes and legal solutions to get around both unpleasant rules and consequences. And there are too many examples of adults who are found to be cheating and dishonest, often at the expense of others. At times, these adults are carted off in hand-cuffs, but at other times they are viewed as shrewd or clever.
But it is in the political arena where adult behavior unbecoming a child is particularly rampant. Every debate team member knows there are clear rules governing both style and content throughout the process. You can dismantle an opponent’s arguments with facts and figures, but you cannot impugn their character or tease them about their figure. On the competitive debate circuit everyone understands that while oratory and rhetoric can elevate your debate arguments, the arguments must be sound and logical. Name calling has no place in high school and college competitive debate. Frankly, it adds nothing to our national debate where the critical challenges and issues are both real and pressing.
As upsetting as all this bad adult behavior is, more upsetting is how clueless these bad behaving adults seem to be. Sincere apologies are rare. Taking responsibility is even more rare, with lawyers, coaches, and handlers prepared to rationalize bad behavior with a variety of excuses. For every time we see the costs and consequences visited on the poorly behaved, there are many times we witness either no cost for the negative behavior, or even some benefits. In fact, current political polls seem to suggest the road to the White House is paved with insults and playground slurs. Apparently, such bad behavior guarantees free advertising and unending air time. It appears the worst consequences are jabs on late night TV, which still serve to keep the offending candidates in everyone’s thoughts.
Children have to follow rules all day, every day. If they make excuses about not having their homework, they probably still have to do it. If they throw a tantrum at their ball game, even if they are living with family problems, or on their asthma medication, they are likely to be benched or maybe thrown off the team. If they cannot control their behavior at home, at school, on the ball field, grown-ups will provide support and consequences to help them do so. We do that not because we are sadistic or enjoy making children feel miserable. We invest in their learning, early on, to follow rules and develop appropriate behavior, so that they can join the ranks of functioning, responsible adults.
There lies the irony. We, adults, are demanding a level of behavior and behavioral self-control in children that we are allowing grown-ups a pass on. How long before children and teens, ever seekers of hypocrisy and ready with a “why can’t I do it if you do it” phrase, realize that they don’t need to learn to manage their behavior to be a grown-up? What happens to our adult credibility? What happens to our world? Can we afford to raise a generation amongst such bad examples of adulthood?
I am too much a realist to believe that I will see a world free from adults behaving badly. There will be bad people of all ages, doing bad things. As voters, as sports fans, as celebrity followers and movie goers, as consumers of products, we do have influence and voice. We can, we must, send a message to adults behaving in ways unbefitting a child. We can say, with our votes, our dollars, our patronage, we want to support grown-ups who are grown up enough to know right from wrong, act accordingly, and when they err, as humans do, to accept responsibility. When we send that message, we will have grown-up, and be adults worthy of our children.