a code that you can live by

“You, who are on the road

Must have a code that you can live by

And so, become yourself

Because the past is just a goodbye

Teach your children well…”

Before we address the iconic exhortation of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, let’s add a bit of recent context. First, from CBS News this week:

A Memphis basketball player has been charged by Bowling Green campus police with assault after punching a Falcons player in the handshake line following a Women’s NIT game, according to the Bowling Green athletic department. The confrontation followed Bowling Green’s win over Memphis on Thursday night.

As the teams walked toward center court following Bowling Green’s 73-60 win in the Round of 16 game, Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes stopped to talk with Falcons’ player Elissa Brett. After a short conversation, Shutes appears to throw a punch at Brett’s face. Brett fell toward the scorer’s table and onto the sideline.

Next, from News4 out of Jacksonville earlier in the month:

St. Johns County parents are raising concerns after a video clip circulated online showing a student attacking another at Switzerland Point Middle School. The violent exchange happened Wednesday in an SPMS classroom and then in a hallway, according to witness accounts and the attacked student’s parents, who asked to remain anonymous.

“He was just blindsided by the whole thing and didn’t even know it was coming,” said the mother of the student who appeared to be targeted in the video clip. “He couldn’t even defend himself if you wanted to.” The student who was attacked suffered a broken nose and multiple bruises, according to his parents.

What is happening to our young people?

Many across the country have reported a rise in school fights, threats and overall misconduct. Some are quick to point to the pandemic. Let me semi-humbly suggest we point somewhere else. 

What are we teaching our young people? Better yet: what are we modeling for them?

It is no secret that our leaders, legislators and us continue to justify the use of fighting words and hateful rhetoric. We don’t see it that way, of course; we only seem to always see the others as the enemy, ignorant of how our own words pave the way for incessant deterioration. And yet…

We promise to fight for what we believe to be noble…

We declare war on our political opposition…

We announce our undeterred efforts to combat any who oppose us…

And just like that we’ve upped the ante in utilizing a rhetoric that was never designed for use outside the armed forces.

We shouldn’t be surprised there’s a rise in fights in our school systems.

We shouldn’t be surprised there’s a sucker punch between female basketball players in a routine handshake line.

While there is no proven, direct line between violent rhetoric and actual violence, we shouldn’t be surprised at the deterioration of respectful behavior if what we accept in our leaders — and what we ourselves model — is too easily laced with rampant rhetorical violence and disrespect. 

The wiser goal, no doubt, is to teach our children well.