Character is the key

Over the past few weeks, I have spent some time responding to parents and the media about how to handle kid’s questions fostered by the awareness that something not too good is happening with Toronto’s Mayor.

I believe there’s actually been quite a bit of good that’s come out of Ford’s bad behaviour. For one thing, I’m actually quite reassured and impressed at the wisdom and profundity from my fourteen year old and her friends. Aside from their liberal use of the word “crackhead,” one friend said that she felt that Ford was putting his ego ahead of the needs of the City and that he should get help. Another said that she felt that his pride was getting in the way of stepping down. Since Ford’s apparently stubborn behaviour has left many kids and adults wondering why he is acting this way, here’s my perspective on why he refused to take a leave of absence:

Almost exactly a year ago, Ford talked to a CBC reporter about his childhood and how he had been teased a lot, mostly because of his weight. He was quoted in the article as saying “You have to stand up to bullies. If you keep it inside, it could mentally harm you.” Well, it appears that he actually may have kept it inside.

Imagine how proud he must have been to have risen above the people who had tormented him to become the major of the great City of Toronto. No wonder he rallies to support the little guy or those that he perceives as victims. Despite how real he is and no matter how many can relate to his human, less than perfect admission, he seems to have forgotten that as the Mayor, the bar is set pretty high. So, after much bad behaviour and silly, impulsive decisions, he has been hounded by the media to come clean and has been poked fun of by citizens, his peers and the media for inappropriate conduct. It seems that he perceives the world as out to get him, that he is once again the victim and everyone else bullies. Imagine then if he were to have willingly stepped down from his position. My guess is that he would have felt that he had been toppled and that he had succumbed to the bullies. A discussion about how to respond and handle bullies, and how we can be affected later in life if we don’t, can be an important parent to child conversation to arise out of Ford’s refusal to step aside.

Other questions that have resulted from his behaviour and created lots of room for discussion include those about drugs and alcohol. I believe that it is our responsibility to answer our kid’s questions honestly and age appropriately, even if talk of crack cocaine happens a little sooner than you’d hoped. For teens who have already had a foundation laid in health education class at school, the discussion may be even deeper. In our household, my daughter has been asking whether the concern around Ford’s use of drugs and alcohol is a legal or moral issue.

If your children heard him using crude language and enquire about what the sometimes bleeped out word was or meant, again use this as an opportunity for talking about words that are disrespectful but more importantly, talk about thinking before you speak. During his apology, Ford admitted that he acted on “complete impulse”. Beyond the City not seeing this as a legitimate excuse for a Mayor who is expected to think clearly and not act on impulse, our children can see and learn from the consequences of speaking before thinking.

They can also see that too many apologies don’t make a difference after a while. Just like children who become immune to and don’t trust parents who often behave inappropriately and then apologize regularly, the same is true between Ford and the citizens of Toronto. We can also help children understand that an apology, in and of itself, does not mean that behaviour is automatically forgiven and forgotten. It was only after Ford was stripped of much of his power and admitted to getting some help, that he spoke of actions speaking louder than words. Perhaps he too has learnt an important life lesson.

Beyond what lessons Ford may have learnt as a result of the events that have unfolded over the past month, we too have been reminded that there are serious consequences for not telling the truth and that an apology is cheapened when evidence is produced and you are then forced into confession. By reassigning the majority of power to someone else, Councillors have shown the rest of the world the importance that they place on associating with and being represented by a leader who displays the attributes – such as responsibility, honesty and integrity – consistent with being a person with good character.

After all, it seems there is a silver lining in every dark cloud.