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Can Compassion Trump Cruelty in the 2016 Election?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 15/03/2016 Lisa Goodman-Helfand
2016 ELECTION © danielfela via Getty Images 2016 ELECTION

I normally leave my disclaimers for the end, but when stepping into a minefield, I prefer to disclose all my caveats first.

  1. I am not overly political, nor am I an expert in national or international politics by any stretch of the imagination.
  2. I'm a firm believer in the right to free speech.
  3. I don't eat rainbows for breakfast, hold hands with strangers singing All You Need is Love, or go around telling people to turn their frown upside down.

I may not know much about politics, but I do know a few things about compassion and cruelty. My life was both put in jeopardy and subsequently saved due to varying levels of compassion. Like everyone, I have been the target of cruelty, but have also seen the power of human kindness triumph in the face of ruthlessness.
I've found that the cruelest people are typically the least whole, most insecure, and suffering so much that they want everyone around them to feel as bad as they do. I've seen this in the public school hallways, on the playground, and in the classrooms with students I've taught for the last two decades. In personal relationships, I've delivered and received heavy doses of heartless words and actions. With every encounter, I become more convinced that cruelty stems from fear, pain and the incessant feeling of being marginalized.
I realize this isn't breaking news and I'm not asserting anything most adults haven't concluded through their own life experiences. As history has demonstrated time and again, every human on earth is capable of both cruelty and compassion. Our presidential candidates are no exception. Dependent on one's own political lens, everyone can find a sound bite to substantiate the kind-heartedness or malevolence of each candidate. Of course, this election is not about selecting the nicest person. It's about international affairs, the economy, education and a laundry list of other public policies on which I have a rudimentary understanding. There is however, one person that stands out in regards to his capacity for cruelty. I'm not about to pretend I understand his political positions or plan for America, though I don't think I'm alone in my confusion. What I do understand is that his wicked, hurtful, and careless remarks regarding how people look and reckless encouragement of violence simply cannot be tolerated.
Mr. Trump claims he has millions of supporters because he says what everyone else is thinking. I beg to differ. I have read, watched and heard the vile comments he continuously makes and can honestly say, his sentiments do not reflect what I am thinking. I'm no saint, I just don't believe that a person's appearance is a valid reason to inflate or deflate the goodness of their character. I've spent a good portion of my life struggling with my outward appearance and now devote my energy to champion for inner-beauty. I'm smart and secure enough to never allow someone like Trump to demolish my self-worth. What scares me is that it took me 40 years to get to this place of being comfortable in my own skin. What about all the children and adults who aren't there yet?
When I hear Trump attack people's appearances, it triggers memories of bullies from my adolescence whose jabs ebbed away at my self-esteem. Most people grow out of the tendency to shut people down by attacking them on a superficial level. Sadly, it seems Trump never made it past the seventh grade in this realm of social development. How can we have a president who resorts to name-calling and ejecting people from public places when they disagree with him? How can we have a president who teaches our children that throwing sucker punches is a suitable way to resolve conflict?
Despite the old "sticks and stones" adage, words do hurt. The pervasive notion that one's outer beauty somehow makes them more valuable in society is not one we need propelled further by the next leader of the free world. As a mom and educator, I worry about how Trump's behavior may impact our nation's most powerful asset; our youth. Each day, we try to teach our kids right from wrong. We encourage them to solve conflicts peacefully and to de-escalate situations by not resorting to bully-like antics. In a beauty-obsessed society, we try to teach our kids to look past someone's exterior and see them for who they are. We are already fighting an uphill battle. Why would we elect to put another mountainous obstacle in our way?

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