Monday, March 19, 2018

I am always proud to vote and I specifically appreciated the privilege in this year’s difficult presidential election. Choosing a candidate to vote for was one of the most difficult political decisions I have ever made. A few thoughts I wanted to share as they relate to our children and the lessons we teach them:

  1. From the “parent lens,” this has been a long and hard fought campaign and a very emotional one for many. At a time when it is easy to focus on our differences, let’s remember and act from our values—something we all share in common. Take care with each other, listen to each other and be thoughtful about the discussions we have as friends in our community.
  2. Politics are compelling, win or lose. I watched my children follow the election results on Tuesday night. It reminded me of how they watch a competition involving their favorite sports team. Our children get excited about their sports teams, even the ones that lose regularly. Politics are no different and are obviously more important. Our priority as parents should be to instill a love of the political system, an understanding of their civic duty and the role that they can play in shaping the future of our country. Many of our ancestors would have sacrificed greatly to have the opportunity to be full participants in the governing of our country. This means that we should be cognizant of the conversations we have in front of our children. Overt sarcasm or cynicism can be harmful to this desired goal.
  3. The world is changing at an unprecedented pace. Anxiety and panic are natural human responses to instability and fear of the unknown. Heightened levels of anxiety in America today played a role in our electorate choosing individuals perceived as outsiders who do not play by standard political rules such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. This also explains why those who are opposed to our new President elect, display a level of anxiety that I have never seen before following an election. Our own children’s ability to make objective and wise political decisions, and to react proportionally to successes and failures will depend on their emotional ability to handle the unknown in a rapidly changing world. We need to consider how we educate towards this goal. Additionally, we must sensitize our children to the anxiety of others so that they can deal with them in a sensitive and caring fashion.
  4. Confirmation bias is described as “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” I have been surprised by the amount of confirmation bias I have seen this election cycle. To share a few examples:
  • If you are concerned about misogyny in our society today, you must condemn actions of both Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, and should condemn Michelle Obama for her adulation of rappers who are guilty of promoting misogyny and violence. I saw too many people condemning only those who did not share their political philosophy.
  • Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, or are trying to stir the flames of anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment. If you disagree with this statement, I submit that you have confirmation bias. That being said, the question of which policies will be better for Israel or for Jews is legitimate and important.
  • The correlation between how one viewed James Comey and the FBI and the “side” that their actions seemed to be supporting at any given moment was very strong.

The best way to ensure that our children are able to self-reflect and check themselves for confirmation bias is to ensure that they are exposed to a variety of opinions and are given opportunities to evaluate those opinions.

  1. Be careful with the internet; all that you read is not accurate. While this statement may seem obvious, research conducted at Stanford University has shown that even college students are not adequately prepared to evaluate the trustworthiness of material on the internet. We need to teach our children these skills.

There are many lessons to be learned from this election cycle. I trust that we will transmit these lessons to our children so that they continue to engage in the political process in a healthy fashion.

Rabbi Daniel Alter is The Moriah School’s head of school.

By Rabbi Daniel Alter