Nurturing Resilience

Raising children to be competent and caring.

Politicians who lie, and why their behavior hurts our kids

When public figures act without integrity, they endanger our kids

Last week British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on a campaign stop in Glagow, Scotland, when his handlers introduced him to Gillian Duffy, 66, who asked him, among other things, about why he wasn't doing more to keep Eastern European immigrants out of Britain. Though he side-stepped the question, he forgot to turn off his microphone and was soon afterwards heard calling the woman a "bigot".

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Brown meant what he said. However, when his gaffe was pointed out to him he lacked the integrity to publicly say what he felt (and which many people would likely have wanted to tell Ms. Duffy themselves). No, instead, Brown rushed back to Duffy's home and spoke with her for 40 minutes, later telling the press there had been a "misunderstanding."

We have a rule of sorts in my house. Just before bed each evening, my wife and I commandeer the big screen television and watch the news. My teenaged children grumble, but more often than not they end up sitting with us as we catch the day's top stories. Watching Brown's waffle, I felt disgusted with politicians. Our children, the research tells us, are naturally inclined towards developing a moral compass and a social identity. They fashion both from what they hear around them. What Brown did, like so many other politicians lately, was remind my kids that public officials are manipulative opportunists with little integrity. He helped lower the bar for an emerging generation that needs good mentors.

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Thankfully, there are other role models for my children.

Dr. John Ross is in charge of the busiest hospital emergency room in the city where I live. He is a local hero for standing up to hospital administrators and initiating a Code Orange one morning when he realized people could wait more than six hours to receive care. A Code Orange is usually reserved for industrial accidents and major car crashes and obligates the hospital to call in extra staff. The penny-wise bureaucrats screamed, but Ross held his ground.

Now to be fair, Ross isn't someone who believes the answer to better long-term health care is just spending more and more on emergency room doctors. And he has the integrity to do the right thing, even say what he thinks publicly.

That was the case a year later when Ross was asked to head a commission to review health care services in rural communities. His response? He told the press, "We have to do something about our population's high dependency on government to take care of them. I'll drink, smoke, be obese, I won't exercise, but as soon as the wheels begin to fall off, that's the government's problem."

Whether one agrees with Ross or not, I'm proud that my children heard him speak his mind. And no, when the proverbial "---" hit the fan and politicians called him to account, he didn't back down.

If we want to develop in our children a sense of right and wrong, and teach them to act with integrity, I recommend having them watch the news with you. If you can, watch a newscast that offers some balance between left and right. Then talk with your kids about what you see. Maybe you and your children will be lucky and encounter some one other than a Gordon Brown.

Michael Ungar, Ph.D., is a family therapist, a researcher at Dalhousie University, and the author of The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids.

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