Lack of kindness in society extends to behavior of Tennessee legislators

Talks of rejecting federal funds for public schools, treatment of parents during special legislative session are hallmarks of a problem

October 26, 2023 5:59 am
A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer moves to eject a woman from a committee room during. the August 2023 special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer moves to eject a woman from a committee room during. the August 2023 special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

This grandmother is angry because my grandchildren see people being unkind to each other almost daily. It is not just people acting out on the news or on social media, it is everywhere. How do I teach my three grandsons that kindness and good manners are always appropriate?

Where do I start with folks publicly showing unkindness?

The way people drive and think the rules do not apply to them? The behavior of fans at football games? The meanness of members of some places of worship in the name of our Creator? People who are rude to each other and to employees at grocery stores and places we eat? 

 In Nashville, we have people painting pro-Nazi signs on homes and leaving antisemitic literature in yards. Just because a former President of the United States resorts to name calling and making fun of people, does that make it OK?

Is being kind out of style? Does it still matter? Should we hold those we elect to public office at a higher standard for behavior or is being mean and hateful the new normal? How do I react when I see unkind actions by our elected officials — especially when I reflect on the recent special session of the Tennessee General Assembly that Gov. Bill  Lee called to ostensibly address gun violence. 

Given the behavior of our state lawmakers during the August special legislative session, they could benefit from adding “Etiquette For Dummies” to the library in the Tennessee Capitol.

I admit I was skeptical that our elected officials — including Lee, and state legislators — would actually do anything to make our children safer during the session, but my Pollyanna self had hoped that kindness, listening to their constituents and opening up their hearts would prevail.  What I hoped did not happen and instead Tennessee was shown as an embarrassing  example of plain old unkindness on display to the entire world. 

The majority of Tennesseans want sensible gun laws but our legislature does not listen to us. During the special session, some legislators met with parents who want to save the lives of kids. These officials led parents to believe they were open to making changers, and it would have been kinder for these legislators to say up front, “Nope, we are not for any restrictions that pertain to guns.” 

Other members of the Republican supermajority were so intimidated by Rep. Justin Jones. D-Nashville,  that they spent taxpayer time making new rules that allowed them to silence dissent. That is not very kind and reminded me of the  actions of a scared bully on the playground. So Jones was silenced by mean actions in the Tennessee House Chamber, but was he really silenced? I think not. 

I suspect that many legislative leaders are afraid of lobbyists. Protestors who made lawmakers uncomfortable with their voices and signs had to leave the House chambers and a committee hearing. Were lobbyists allowed to stay? Or were these lobbyists treated with kindness and respect?

TN House passes rules to restrict speech, limit disruptions and public during special session

When I learned that the Republicans of the Tennessee legislature might reject $1.8 billion in federal funds for public education I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Do they have any idea how many of our kids come to school hungry and that they need to be fed in order to learn? Where is the kindness in this action? It appears to be as mean as the failure to accept funds for Medicaid expansion and allowing rural hospitals to close. I am screaming to myself, “What is WRONG with you people!”

I am really at a quandary about what to say to my grandchildren about unkind behavior. We can try to lead by example. At a young age I was taught to sing, “And they know we are Christians by our love, by our love,” but do any of these words mean anything today, for any religion? 

Perhaps folks just don’t know how to act. I don’t believe any of these books have been banned so I am putting on my book reviewer hat and making some gentle suggestions for additions to the library in our State Capitol.  “Etiquette In Society, In Business, In Politics And At Home” by Emily Post that is updated every year of so, “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised,” by Henry M. Robert III, Daniel H Honemann, et al., “Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever,” by Gavin Edwards or for something simpler “Etiquette For Dummies,” by Sue Fox.  Imagine those who lead visitors on tour of our Capitol pointing out these titles and saying this is the self improvement section for our elected officials. 

Jesus Christ — who I try to follow —  taught us through his lessons the importance of kindness.  According to the Book of Matthew, he was asked what were the most important commandments and his response was  “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Following these two commandments is a daily struggle for me because I am certainly not perfect. But I wish more of us would try.

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Saralee Terry Woods
Saralee Terry Woods

Saralee Terry Woods is an uppity independent who ran BookManBookWoman Bookstore for more than 25 years in Nashville.