“WHEN they go low, we go high.” These words by First Lady Michelle Obama from the Democratic Party Convention resonated deeply with me. This language of love and example spoke of so much.
I often struggle to live up to my duty to be the role model I want to be to my five children. My kids think that all Dublin mothers use bad language as though they were members of The Commitments. In fact I have used The Commitments as proof that all Dublin people swear as much as me. For the record – they don’t; well a lot do, but not all at their kids when they build up a pile of washing that looks like the Black Mountain on a clear day. I am lucky to parent in a partnership. We can support each other when it is difficult and trying.
I suppose it is in the everyday things especially that we strive to lead by example. Hard work is at the heart of that. So no-one gets to live in a house and freeload while someone else does all the washing, cleaning, cooking and providing. Everyone needs to pull their weight. Last Sunday my 14-year-old daughter made us a full roast dinner from scratch. Including home-made gravy.
My sons knows how to separate darks from whites and wash on the right temperature. And we expect them to do their best in school and on the pitch. And with support and encouragement they do. But with the big picture stuff the important message from Michelle Obama’s words was: more. How we respond to hate, discrimination, violation and abuse is something every household needs to think about. We send messages every day to our kids on that. Our house doesn’t just watch the news, we engage with it, debate with it, shout at it.
There are examples to be set in those moments. Do we call people names? Do we dismiss people because of who they are, rather than what they say? Do we promote higher values or engage in the language of the lowest common denominator? In recent weeks I have heard young people who have engaged in anti-social behaviour described as scum and scumbags in places from barber shops to the pitchsides of juvenile sport. Is that going high? Or is it compounding a problem to whose solution we all have a responsibility to contribute?
It seems to me that by living by the aspiration to be better – applying higher principles, promoting love, generosity and rights – is going high. Going low just means everyone stays disempowered, lost and afraid. Our community faced a sustained campaign of everything the British military and state could throw at it. All through that time voices of hope, love and human rights sang through – and won. Now as we rebuild let’s continue to go high. Our young people need us to provide example, not bickering or using hate-filled words to those around us.
Using the language of respect is at the heart of promoting a higher, healthier and more inclusive society where everyone prospers. That can be really challenging, especially in the face of vilification. But that is the point. Going high takes faith and courage. But when we do, everyone wins.