In 1968 a very brave teacher named Jane Elliott embarked on a social experiment with her classroom of third graders. She wanted to teach them about prejudice. In my opinion, she taught them and us a whole lot more. She divided the class into blue-eyed children and brown and green-eyed children. She said that the brown-eyed children were superior to those with blue eyes. That day, the brown-eyed children berated those with blue eyes and bullied them.
The next day, the blue-eyed kids were told that they were better than the shifty, lazy brown-eyed kids. The reverse happened but not to the same degree as the day before. Perhaps, having suffered berating, the blue-eyed children were more empathetic. Just by being told they were better, the children were emboldened, became bullies and lost most of their compassion for their fellow students of different eye color.
Looking at what is going on in the Republican primaries, I am wondering if the same phenomenon is occurring. The candidates are saying essentially that we as American citizens are better then those trying to immigrate here to the US. That white Americans are better than those of color. The behavior that is ensuing as a result is embarrassing, frightening, and downright un-American. The rhetoric coming from Donald Trump in particular is mean-spirited and devoid of compassion. It is bullying behavior that would be very dangerous if he were to become the leader of the free world.
The fact that so many are following him makes sense when we look at the children in Jane Elliott’s classroom experiment. He is tapping into insecurities and fears and preying on those who would like to feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, to stop bullying behavior it doesn’t help to distinguish between them and us. What will work is to give people a hand and hope that their lives can be changed for the better. Stomping on someone to get a leg up will only hurt all of us.
When people are so mean and nasty, it makes me wonder what type of pain and lack of love they must have in their life. What is the answer? I am hoping that if each and every one of us can find a way to be kinder to others and pay it forward, that will help. I know it sounds trite, but love is the answer.
The experiment that Jane Elliott did with her students was and remains controversial. But, many of her students have returned and thanked her for changing their lives in a very positive way and helping them to find compassion and empathy for others. Perhaps it is time for the Republican candidates to have a go at a remedial class with Ms. Elliot!