This week I was cleaning out my nine-year-old daughter's backpack when I found a poster for a group project she had completed with other kids in her class. The first thing I noticed was that one of the kid's names had been cut out of the poster. When I confronted my daughter about it she admitted that she was the one who had cut out her classmate's name, though she swore the child hadn't seen it. When I asked my daughter why she had committed such an intentionally mean act, she said that she was mad at the child for doing something mean to her. For too many reasons to explain in one blog post, my heart shattered.
"So you believe that her cruelty justifies yours?" I asked her.
As soon as the question left my lips, I thought about Samantha Bee. This week she's getting backlash after calling Ivanka Trump a "feckless c***" on her hit comedy show Full Frontal. It was a vile reference that she made out of disgust for Ms. Trump's seeming insensitivity to the plight of migrant children. Bee later apologized for her words, but two major advertisers, State Farm and Autotrader, have already pulled their advertising. Most of the ensuing media flurry centered around predictable "Who is worse?" comparisons: Samantha Bee or Roseanne Barr, sexism or racism, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. But my biggest concern is the plummeting of our public discourse and its negative impact on our ability to see each other's humanity. I personally abhor many of Ms. Trump's policies and actions, but she is still a person.
In her speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama offered champions of democracy the same advice that she teaches her daughters: When they go low, we go high. In reflecting on Samantha Bee's track record for using her show to inspire social change, it hit me that we should go high not just because it's the righteous thing to do, but because going low undermines our own integrity and subsequently our ability to create impact in the world. As I'm painfully learning, it's a tough concept to teach our children. It's easier to lash out when we're angry. But as Brene Brown writes about in this brilliant piece, dehumanization always starts with language and it's a slippery slope.
As tempting as it is, we won't be able to move our nation forward by simply cutting people out.