Well, the last few months have been fun, right? No matter what side you’re on, I think we can all agree that the negativity, the arguing, the winds of change…they’ve been uncomfortable to say the least.

Personally, the hardest part of it all has been seeing neighbors and friends act so horrendously toward one another. The next hardest part has been thinking about how it’s affecting our children. What is this name-calling, judgmental, my-way-or-the-highway behavior (that’s echoed throughout our culture) teaching our little people?

Right now, I may feel small. I may feel somewhat helpless to the madness surrounding us. I may be discouraged and not sure of how to fix these seemingly mountain-sized rifts in the ‘we’ of ‘we the people’.

But there are things I can do – at least five things, actually – to know that I’m not contributing to the problem. So, regardless of the political climate, be it this election or the next, here’s what I will teach my children:

Be kind

It seems simple, so simple that we don’t feel that we should have to say it. But we do. From a very early age, we teach our kids to be nice to their friends, not to fight with one another, not to call names. Yet here we are, a bunch of adults, not being kind to one another and calling each other all sorts of names. What does that show our kids?

Research has shown that lessons stick when our kids see us doing, not just telling. We are sending an incredibly conflicting message to our youth: “Treat your neighbor like you want to be treated, but mommy’s going to treat her neighbor the way she thinks he deserves to be treated for reasons x, y, and z.”

Not cool, parents, not cool.

No matter who’s in office, no matter what the social climate dictates, I will teach my kids that it’s always the right choice to be kind. Resentment and hostility only breed further resentment and hostility. No one ever wished they would have been crueler to others on their death bed.

Diversity is a gift

One of my favorite ways to think about diversity is to first recognize that on a scientific level, we are all very much the same. Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy!) explained it perfectly when he described a man and woman of different ethnic backgrounds having relations…and what happens nine months later. 

No need to go into more detail. You know how it works. 

To summarize Nye’s statements, we’re all the same species. We’re humankind. Race is but a human construct that would be more accurately described as tribes, if approaching the topic from a purely observational, unbiased standpoint.

Here’s where I think the lesson comes in for our children. Diversity within a species allows that species to flourish: new genes, new ideas, new physical attributes, new ways to communicate, new methods of feeding and housing our kind. Whether we’re talking caveman days or right this very moment, this idea holds true. 

Diversity allows us to grow and succeed. Not being the same is what keeps us from becoming a creepy sci-fi movie. Regardless of all the outside noise we may be hearing, I’m taking diversity for the win.

Everyone thinks differently

Thank the Lord for this one. If we didn’t, we’d still believe the world was flat and use blood letting as a treatment for strep throat. I think that alone makes my point. 

Difference in opinion and thought processes make us smarter. We learn from those who have ideas unlike our own, not unlike in school, when a concept can make absolutely no sense until someone else explains it in a way that you hadn’t come up with yourself.

By nature, we are selfish creatures, who tend to conform to notions that the world exists everywhere as it exists where we are. The upbringings and experiences of others shape their worldview and ideas, just as ours do for us. It’s important to encourage our children to be open to the thoughts of others.

This year, and every year, I will surround my children with culture and positively reinforce variation in their thinking.

Stand up for the underdog, even when you’re not one

Our current political climate has sparked so much within me that I never really knew was there. It forced me to confront social biases I didn’t think still existed thanks to growing up in a generation of people who are notoriously tolerant and accepting.

One idea that has really struck me, that I feel a personal responsibility to instill in my children, is that of giving a voice to those who don’t have one, or to those who may not be heard. 

I once believed that there were no benefits to being a middle class, caucasian kid. I was wrong. No one ever looked at me and questioned my motives. No one made harsh and rash judgements about my character without even speaking a word to me. While I’ve worked hard and been gracious, I already had a leg-up by not having to clear the social-bias hurdle. Then I realized my ignorance.

Due to recently implemented extremist policies, the lives of those who are different and those who represent diversity are being torn apart. Their voices aren’t being heard or respected. It is the job of those of us whose safety and security are not being threatened to speak up for those whose safety and security is on the line. 

If we are kind, if we value diversity, if we welcome different thinking, we stand up for the guy who isn’t being represented fairly. It is our responsibility to give our children every advantage and every opportunity to make it, to thrive. It is also our responsibility to teach our children to use their position in life, whatever it may be, to advocate for those who have not been afforded the same opportunities. Now, tomorrow, and forever.

Strive to be better

In life, in politics, in school, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing, and we go about it the wrong way. Sometimes our country’s leaders are trying to do good, and circumstances happen that turn the whole thing into a big flop. Sometimes we disagree on how to do what’s best, so the end result isn’t so great. 

All that matters is that we have good intentions and that we strive to be better.

If you’re in a heated disagreement and forget to be kind, do better. 

If you get into it with a friend on Facebook who has polar opposite political viewpoints, and you don’t stop to think about why he thinks the way he does and ignore the journey through life that he’s taken, do better next time. 

If you are witness to an injustice and don’t do anything to stop it, be better to lessen the chances of seeing that injustice again.

If you are discouraged by what we’re seeing, how we’re acting, and how we’re treating one another, teach your children to do better so that our next generation can avoid our mistakes and rise above our bitterness. 

I will teach my kids that, on both sides of the political spectrum, we all have room to do and be a little better.