When my brother Dave was 5, our grandmother placed a cardboard match box in the middle of the road. Mom and Dave sat on the front porch and waited for a car to smash it, which didn't take long.
"That could be you," Mom told him. "That's why you have to be so careful when you cross the street. Cars can hit you and hurt you very badly."
It was a particularly important lesson for my mom to convey because she was totally blind. She knew that she faced special challenges in watching him and keeping him safe, so she focused on prevention.
Parents often teach by showing. We've all known a parent who took a child to visit an acquaintance who'd been burned to drive home the dangers of playing with fire or to a corrections setting to show a wayward-leaning child where bad behavior may end up.
I plan to immerse my children in politics in the near future. We'll take road trips to the Utah Legislature, watch tapes of presidential-candidate press conferences, talk about the campaign ads and rhetoric. I want my children to see the end result of certain behavior I don't find particularly appealing.
Each family comes fully loaded with its own value system. My father hammered home messages about courtesy and the ill effects of rudeness. He had a zero-tolerance policy that we all grew up in and adopted ourselves. He could forgive nearly any lapse, but he never made an excuse for rude or obnoxious behavior. And self-importance, expressed as either arrogance or condescension, fell even further down his list. He didn't like dirty tricks or manipulation, either.
I don't think this political climate would have been his favorite thing. It's too venomous.
When I think of the Legislature, I sometimes think of my dad. There are kind and courteous legislators, but that body, taken as a whole, would have driven him to distraction. He'd have loathed the current election, from the national to the local, for its toxic tone.
It's not just elections that are disturbing, but what comes after. I think more citizens should attend government sessions just to see how badly elected officials can behave when they're in a power seat.
Over time, I've formed some impressions. For instance, I don't think our legislators want to hear from the electorate. Most of them consider themselves "the experts" and will likely be unmoved by any challenge we might throw up regarding an issue if, as is the case a great deal of the time, their individuals minds are already made up.
They can be extremely abrupt, to the point of rudeness and beyond.
During my most recent foray to the Capitol, a lawmaker announced he didn't like a particular health practice and was using his position as committee chairman to schedule a hearing, though the topic would normally — and more logically — be heard in another committee. Hey, you might not get the results you want in a committee you don't chair, right? It's certainly harder to control the discussion. And people who watch particular committee agendas might actually see the topic was to be discussed. Worse, they might want to participate, and who wants to hear from them, anyway?
It's not that I think the end result would necessarily be wrong. I am just offended by the lack of consideration given to common citizens in general and to anyone who has a differing opinion in particular.
I dislike the nasty tenor of some of the election campaigns this year, the attitude that you can say anything, true or not, if it gains you a little ground at the polling place. My sister says that if someone were just civil, he'd be half-way to getting her vote. Mine, too.
We've been so worn down and eroded by incivility that we hardly notice. We celebrate rudeness. Spectacularly bad behavior is being packaged and sold to us as "entertainment." You have to shock us a little just to nudge us out of our naps, I guess.
Certain words are in danger of falling out of the dictionary. Words like "statesman," with its image of honor, respect and real leadership.
Reporters and editors love to ask candidates to fill out questionnaires. I've got some questions: Have you ever listened, politely, to someone who feels differently about an issue than you do? When you're not actively campaigning, do you care what your constituents think? Did you actually read in its entirety the bill or rule or regulation before you voted on it? Have you asked to hear an opposing view just to be sure you're not missing something important? Are you willing to learn anything new? Etc.
There can be no surer indication of character than how someone treats others, especially those who are not as well-positioned when it comes to clout.
Pol-watching is instructive. And destructive.
Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com