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Kindergartner to Obama: “Are people being nice?”

May 20, 2010

This was the question posed to President Barack Obama by a Kindergartner.  At a recent White House Press Correspondent’s Dinner, President Obama shared some comments and questions sent to him by a kindergarten class.  The question, “Are people being nice?” caused our President to raise the question of civility in politics – those two concepts clearly having become an oxymoron of late, – but I think it needs to be given a broader context.

I’ve done over two-dozen interviews, on radio and in print, in the last few weeks, related to all sorts of issues having to do with anti-social behavior and lack of character.  These subjects range from the horrific bullying incidents involving Phoebe Prince, Josie Lou Ratley, Michael Brewer and others, all the way to the incident with the NYC Good Samaritan who was left on the street to bleed to death while dozens of people walked by without lending a hand. Abusive relationships and dating violence such as what appears to be the cause of Lacrosse player Yeardley Love’s death is another harsh data point on the same continuum.

These are extreme examples of people “not being nice,” certainly, but there are others.  The issue of civility in politics or the media could certainly appear on that list.  People cut each other to shreds, assassinating not just their beliefs or actions, but their very character and person, without regard to how it makes the other person feel – or even how it reflects on the individual doing the ‘dissing.

If you want to tie this back neatly, to the “topic of the day,” let’s look at this all as a string of bullying, intimidating and undermining of principles, character, of people. “If you don’t like what I say or do, and disagree with me, I’ll make you out to be a fool.” We look for dirt, spread gossip, vilify people in private and in public at the drop of a hat.  We don’t think twice because, after all, the end justifies the means.

What’s missing from this?  I’d say it’s going to back to one simple rule: The Golden Rule.  If we stopped and thought, even for one nanosecond, “would I like it if someone said this about me/did this to me/thought this of me?” before we spoke or reacted, we’d have greater civility as a natural by-product. Because, if the answer to that question isn’t “yes,” then we shouldn’t be doing/saying/acting the way we are about to – because WE wouldn’t like it, chances are the other person wouldn’t either.

Problem is we’ve stopped thinking and considering how other people feel.  Too often it’s irrelevant. We don’t stop and think because we are busy making OUR point, selling OUR agenda, mowing down OUR roadblocks.  And we overlook “us” in the process.

It’s a sad commentary when a 5-year old, whose perspective on life should be sunshine, flowers and friends has to ask our President, “Are people being nice?” Mr. Obama has to be honest and say, “Too often, no.”  It’s not just about politics, Mr. Obama – these politicians are people and as such, are supposed to be reflective of the people they represent.  We have to ask the question, then, “Are WE being nice?”  We can’t control “people,” but we CAN control ourselves. It starts there.

Be nice today. Make a Kindergartner happy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 2:33 pm

    THanks for writing this, Corinne. Thanks also for thinking about it and working on change. Often we aren’t very nice… to strangers, to friends, to family members… not even to ourselves. I don’t know what’s going on… Stephen King calls is “slippage” We’re slipping and sliding all over the place. It’s not enough to blame the media though what they produce for our entertainment (and what we gobble up so eagerly) certainly ain’t helping us be nicer. It’s also not accurate to blame “technology” for making it as painless as drone-warfare to snipe at a classmate who you hate.

    I got a question from a 4th grader a few months ago… “Why are people mean to each other?” He didn’t understand why meanness, suspicion, attack-mode seems to be the norm. I don’t understand either. But like you, I know I can’t change “society”… all I can do is make thoughtful choices moment to moment… especially when I’m stressed and more likely to be thoughtless. Oh, I can connect with people like you who are also on the “be nice” team. I invite your readers to visit Cruel’s Not Cool!


  1. Are people being nice? — Part II « SocialSmarts Blog

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