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Jane Ahlin, Published November 10 2012

Ahlin: A pre-election message to Clara, Thomas, Henry

Dear Clara, Thomas and Henry,

As I sit down to write this, I have no idea how the election is going to turn out. By the time you read this, however, we’ll know. Chances are, some of the candidates I’d like to see win will win. Others will not. That’s the way things are supposed to turn out in a democracy. As young as you are, you shouldn’t be worried about the winning and losing yet. It’s enough that you already are curious about voting. Really, it’s enough that you know all the words to “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America.”

In that vein, I’ve been thinking about the impressions children like you are taking away from this election. I find myself wondering whether all of us adults in your lives think sufficiently about the messages we’re responsible for delivering. (Shouldn’t we be embarrassed that in watching TV ads, children well could conclude that every candidate is in the race to ruin their lives?)

You seem to understand that elections resemble athletic competitions. For one thing, we choose the political parties we support much the way we choose the teams we cheer for. We’ve grown up with parents supporting a team, or we feel affiliation because of a school that we’ve attended or city where we’ve lived. Many of us support teams whether we’re particularly excited about this year’s coaches or players and whether they’re having a winning or losing season. We enjoy it more when everything clicks, yet, as long as we feel a strong connection, we’re dependably in the cheering section.

Much the same way, affiliations to political parties also can result from growing up in a family who supports one party or another. Different from the city or school ties we have with athletic teams, however, we’re attracted to political parties because of the stands they take on “issues.” That simply means that the same attitudes toward lawmaking and upholding American ideals important to one political party also are important to us. Of course, there are times we prefer the attitudes of candidates from other parties and vote for them, but if unsure, we’re likely to give the candidates in the party we identify with the benefit of the doubt.

You should know that not everybody identifies with specific political parties. In fact, that’s as normal as it is to identify with them. Like fans who cheer on whichever team currently plays a game best, there always are people who seesaw between political parties.

But back to the messages. The world you’re growing up in is a world in constant conversation. Social media is the meat and potatoes of life for young adults (not to be in touch is not to be anything at all). Older adults, on the other hand, can’t decide whether FB, tweeting and instant-messaging are not-so-favorite vegetables for us to tolerate or delicious desserts that usually go down well but might end up causing heartburn. When it comes to elections, I’d like to think that having social media everywhere all the time makes it easier for young adults today (and for you later) to see through the nastiness in elections – that the mockery and silliness in social media allow for lightening up about politics and seeing things clearly rather than becoming cynical.

If there is one message I hope you get as you grow up and elections come and go, it’s that voting is the best shared experience we have as citizens. It is our privilege and responsibility to be part of shaping the nation that we love – our chance to participate in something greater than ourselves.

You may wonder why I talk about “political parties” instead of “Republicans and Democrats.” Perhaps after enduring so many months of their bitter campaigning on differences, I think we all need some distance from the labels. In fact, we could use healing wisdom from that important early American Thomas Jefferson who said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

Looking forward to Thanksgiving and a chorus of “God Bless America” with you,

Grandma Jane.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.