Prime Minister as Role Model?

Today I went right to the top (in our country, anyway) with a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper explaining why I wish he’d be a better role model for our youth.

Judging from the personal-record number of emails, comments and tweets I got, this column struck a chord with a lot of people. I’m not the only one who’s tired of seeing political leaders degenerate into personal attacks. Fellow Herald columnist Dan Leger tackled a similar topic in his column today, and Michael de Adder drew this terrific cartoon:

deadderWEBx22

Michael de Adder cartoon, The Chronicle Herald, April 22, 2013
http://www.thechronicleherald.ca/editorial-cartoon/2013-04-22-editorial-cartoon

While the response I got was overwhelmingly positive, a few people accused me of being anti-Conservative and pointed out, as I expected, that the current government is not the first to use attack ads.

That’s true, but their most recent ad is a new low. As Dan Leger points out, the overall message is “Justin Trudeau is a fool” and the subtext is “if you’re even thinking about voting for him then you’re a fool too.”

A few others scolded me that it’s naive to expect politicians to be role models. It’s the nature of the beast, they essentially said. Politicians aren’t auditioning to be Mother Theresa. They do what works.

I’m not exactly Pollyanna, but I think it’s sad that we settle for this. As I wrote in my column, there’s a difference between doing what’s effective and doing what’s right. And we seem to be content to let our leaders do what’s effective.

For me, this is not about one political party or another. It’s about the climate we’ve created in North America. We talk about cyberbullying with our kids, but it’s not just a teenage problem.

When our culture is all about sound bites and shouting and 140-character pithy/sarcastic responses, it’s hard to have a real conversation that’s about issues and not personalities.

I think this was obvious in last year’s U.S. election, and I expect it will be true in our next federal election too. (I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not holding by breath.) We seem to be becoming more divided along sharper lines, and it’s ruining our thinking.

Here’s what I mean in a nutshell: If you and I disagreed on, say, the ideal toppings for a pizza, we should be able to walk away with our respect for each other intact, even if we don’t have a perfect lunch.

But if I go away thinking, “She likes pineapples on her pizza? What an idiot! There must be there something wrong with her!” then I’ve lost something and so have you.

Unfortunately, this is where we are. There’s a whole lot of demonizing and righteous finger-wagging and not a lot of nuanced discussion. When we treat people who think differently as our enemies, it makes us poorer–intellectually, socially and emotionally.

So we need to teach our kids that it is possible to hold different views than another person and still respect them–heck, maybe even like them.

We don’t see a whole lot of that from some of our politicians these days.¬† Especially not from our Prime Minister. And whether he or we want to admit it, it definitely has a trickle-down effect. For better or worse, he is indeed a role model.

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