What To Tell Your Kids At The Breakfast Table

Frustrated boy doing homework at breakfast
Frustrated boy doing homework at breakfast

After the Presidential Election, CNN Commentator Van Jones asked "what do I tell my kids at the breakfast table tomorrow morning?" Mr. Jones explained that we tell our kids not to be bullies, to respect others and to be prepared. In the wake of the election, Mr. Jones did not know how to square such advice with the President-Elect's campaign.

Here is the first thing to tell your kids at the breakfast table: be the change you want to see in the world. Gandhi said that many years ago, but it is all too true today. The past few weeks, I talked a lot about the importance of voting. This past Tuesday ninety million Americans silenced themselves. Forty-five percent of our population surrendered the most power they will ever have as citizens. The vast majority of us will never hold office, be political insiders or have a Super PAC. All of us, however, can vote.

Is it always fun? No. Is it always convenient? No. Is it ever glamorous? I am still researching that, but I am leaning toward no. But a lot of things that matter in life are neither fun, nor convenient, nor glamorous. It was not fun working the night shift and coming back to do homework when I was in community college. It was not convenient re-learning algebra and calculus after being out of school for decades. It was not glamorous cold calling alumni as a fundraiser once I got to a four-year college. But graduating from college was the greatest joy of my life and the single greatest change in my life for the better.

For every glorious achievement there are countless hours of inglorious drudgery. Is it easier to whine on Facebook about your problems? Yes. Is it more convenient to skip a trip to the polls. Yes. Is it more glamorous to protest the election in the streets? Yes. But the things that matter in life are not always fun, convenient and glamorous. A member of Martin Luther King Jr.'s staff once explained that for every second of Dr. King's breathtaking oratory, there were thousands of hours of licking stamps, handling paperwork, and answering phones. These tasks were not fun, convenient or glamorous, but without them the Civil Rights Movement would have failed.

It is easy to view such victories as righteous and ordained flashes of change across the arc of history. It is tempting to attribute progress to the progression of a sacred, just and inevitably democratic American Narrative. It is comforting to think that the changes we want in our lives and in the lives of our country will just happen through karma or faith or providence. In reality all progress, all change, all triumph is the product of focus, grit and unyielding toil.

Here is the second thing to tell your kids at the breakfast table: do not quit. This is the first election many of our children have seen. For many young adults this is the first, second or third election in which they have participated. For some it was a joyous experience and for others it was heartbreaking. For those whose candidate came up short, you cannot quit just because you did not get the result you wanted. If you quit, the change you wanted and the America you wanted will never come. If you quit, the ideas you oppose and the policies you reject will prevail. Take some time to think about what went wrong, take some time to heal and come back swinging to serve your nation. You should apply this lesson to all of life's disappointments, because there will be a lot of them. The more you strive, the more you will fail. But there is nothing wrong with failure. There is a great deal wrong, however, with refusing to learn from a failure and letting that failure break you.

Here is the third thing to tell your kids at the breakfast table: it will be all right, if you do not quit. If you are disappointed with the election result, you can take solace from the fact that our government is designed to moderate extremism. In two years, there will be another election that can restore a check on executive power. This will only happen, however, if people show up to vote. In four years, there will be another Presidential election when you can have your voice heard. Again, this will only happen if people show up to vote. It will be all right, if you do not quit. If you do quit, it will not be all right and the America you want may be lost forever.