From the mayor’s desk: Our children are watching

Published 10:52 pm Saturday, April 27, 2024

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I’ve always loved children. Being a child at heart myself, I find it hard not to. My wife Marla sometimes pokes fun at me when I tell people I grew up in Jackson. She is quick to reply, “Actually you were raised in Jackson. You’re just now growing up in Natchez.”

I think there may be some truth to that.

One thing I’ve learned over and over is that children are always watching. It doesn’t matter so much what we say as what we do, and every day, we as adults must be careful to set the right example.

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I’ve written a lot lately about kindness, probably because I find it is something that is oftentimes missing in the world around us. Face it: People can be innately selfish, thinking everything revolves around them and turning very mean when things don’t go their way. It has been said that some people are just born that way, and remembering back to some of the things I experienced as a child, I guess this may be true. Bullying and mean-spirited behavior are real things. But our world doesn’t have to be that way, and I truly believe the more we as adults model kindness, the more likely the next generation will be inclined to follow suit.

In today’s culture, unkindness takes many forms. Racism and cultural discrimination are perhaps tops on that list. Yet, we are taught that all are created equal, made by God’s loving hand, and truly this is the standard to which we should all aspire.

Many who have gone before us have modeled this very behavior. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come to me,” as he taught us “to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.”

A true Saint of the church, Mother Teresa once said, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” And a lady who truly loved children, Princess Diana famously said, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”

Whenever I hear or read words of hate, especially those that are racially inspired, it grieves me to know that our children are watching. And they are listening. And all too often, these words, and the actions behind them, are coming from those who should be role models for just the opposite: adults in leadership and positions of authority.

In 1963, a great man of history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously spoke of his dream that one day “little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

Growing up in a fully integrated school from age six, I have lived this dream all of my life, and it’s been beautiful. Yet, I have witnessed, even in recent days, words and actions that would dash any hopes of Dr. King’s dream being the reality not only for the children of today but for the generations yet to be born. Words of kindness inspire love. Words of hate do just the opposite, and the long term effect can be detrimental for all of us. It was Dr. King who also said, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

To anyone reading this column, I urge you to take a stand against hate and to allow your words and your actions to stand instead for love. This is the only way to achieve a better world for ourselves and our children.

And being kind doesn’t mean you’re being weak.

A great president, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we will find that kindness is actually an attribute of the strongest of souls, for hate is rooted in the basest of emotions: fear and insecurity.

Another great President, Barack Obama, who famously said “we can disagree without being disagreeable,” also said this: “What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves.” I think these are good words to live by.

Natchez — let us be a people who model love and kindness. Our children are watching. And our Children Deserve More.

Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.