Voting Lessons from Kindergarten: When candidates are Big Bird, The Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Pooh and Olivia
“comity: a; friendly social atmosphere; social harmony; b; a loose widespread community based on common social institutions [as in] thecomity of civilization” — Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
We’re near the end of another election season, and are staggering under an onslaught of vicious, truth-bending ads in virtually all media, doesn’t “comity” sound like an impossible dream? Like everyone I know, I find myself growling: “This is surely a worst-ever year,” but then I look back at a couple of my columns from earlier elections and realize that for me, disillusion/despair is an ongoing quadrennial occurrence.
I remember the years when I was a child, and my parents were growling about the high-handedness of “That Man” in the Whitehouse, i.e. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Twenty years later, they suddenly — and independently, since they were by then divorced — switched parties, and voted for Adlai Stevenson. That in itself was a good lesson to us kids, who discovered that one may change one’s party of choice without bringing on the doom of civilization. Before then, we had mindlessly subscribed to the “my side is better than your side” taunts of little kids, without really understanding what we were supporting or why.
When we grew up and started learning about history, we discovered that the name-calling, fact-twisting, and outright viciousness of a political campaign is an old, rich, and, alas, disgusting tradition in this country. Go back and read the papers of the day during the Adams vs. Jefferson election of 1800, if you are looking for bare-faced brutality. For that matter, check on the Jefferson versus Adams mud-slingingin the election of 1796.
A friend of mine claims that it’s just human nature to feel that anyone who doesn’t think as you do is either a fool or a madman. For those of us reared by reasonable adults who were slow to label others and quick to defend anyone’s right to his or her point of view, that kind of “my way or the highway” thinking seems at best immature.
It seems to me that our current culture fosters all kinds of immaturity, even into adulthood. Look at our amusements, which celebrate fantasy and escapism. Consider our materialistic, acquisitive mindset, and our sense of entitlement. Even our patriotism often edges over into jingoism, with people chanting “My country, right or wrong!” I far prefer the version by American Senator Carl Schurz, which goes: "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right" (italics mine). One may, after all, believe in the need for change right along with loving one’s country.
But back to comity: wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could suddenly find all of America exercising some restraint during an election year? I’m not advocating putting our individual beliefs on the shelf, mind you, but one may be loyal to a political party without shouting pejoratives at those who think differently, even if we quietly suspect them to be idiots. One might even find a way to work effectively, side by side, in comity.
Many years ago, I found myself teaching kindergarten with a co-teacher whose political allegiances were probably a direct opposite of mine. I say probably, because neither of us ever questioned the other about them. We concentrated on working well together. She was a brilliant woman and a fine teacher, and I was determined to learn everything I could from her.
Came a presidential election year, and my colleague announced that there would be a class election. Mind you, we were working with 5 and 6 year-olds, which seemed to me too early to be electing class officers, but before I could object, she announced that the candidates would be favorite characters from children’s books and television.
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