As Mother's Day comes around again, I find myself wondering what my mother (of blessed memory) would say about the world of 2017. I think about this often, and not just on Mother's Day-- the ways our society has changed, both for good and for bad. When my mother died of cancer in September of 1989, the internet was not yet a dominant force in society and social media didn't exist. In fact, as I've noted in other posts, my mother lived before instant communication was possible: few people knew about email in the 1980s, and even fewer envisioned smartphones or texting. (Many people still struggled to program their VCRs.) But even if the internet or social media had been available, I doubt my mother would have used them-- she was very much a Luddite about technology, and she always preferred seeing people in person or talking with them on the phone. She was also a big fan of writing thank-you notes or sending cards (with hand-written messages).
In 2017, there are so many new inventions that simplify our lives; but the thing my mother would marvel at the most is the difference in how we talk to each other. She never appreciated rude behavior, and she believed children (of any age) should speak respectfully to their elders. She loved to read, she appreciated anyone who spoke well and had a good vocabulary, and she enjoyed listening to educated people debating the issues of the day. So, I wonder what she would say about the Trump presidency (note to readers: while my mother tended to be a liberal, my father's views leaned conservative, so I heard both perspectives when growing up). No, I am not talking about Mr. Trump's politics-- I am talking about how he expresses himself. My mother grew up in a time when politicians spoke very differently from how some of them speak today.
Don't get me wrong: political campaigns were never courteous events, even in the "good old days." As the fictional character "Mr Dooley" remarked in 1895, "Politics ain't beanbag." But even politicians who were the most bitter rivals would not have cursed during a political speech, nor can I imagine Ronald Reagan or Lyndon Johnson (both of whom were well-acquainted with bad language), publicly expressing their beliefs about their opponents in vulgar terms. I've remarked on this before, since I vaguely recall watching presidential debates on TV when I was a kid-- but in my mother's day, political campaigns were mainly conducted in a manner that was passionate but respectful. Society did not think kindly of a politician who lost his temper or violated social norms (like refusing to shake hands with someone).
My mother taught me that the two most important things in life were caring about others and treating others courteously. She didn't just talk that way; she lived that way. We had some relatives (as every family does) who were not the nicest of people and who sometimes showed her no respect. Yet she always tried to be courteous to them. No, she wasn't a doormat and she didn't allow people to be rude. But she tried to give them a chance to change; and if they disappointed her, she never came down to their level, nor did she get into shouting matches with them. In her own way, she let people know when she'd heard enough, and she let them know when they had gone too far. She was much more patient than I am; but I must admit, it was fascinating to watch her deal with people who made the mistake of underestimating her.
I did not always get along with my mother, and I know I often tried her patience. I could be exasperating sometimes, and I know that what I wanted out of life career-wise was not what she wanted for me. (Yes, she wanted me to be happy and to succeed, but she never understood why I wanted a career in the media; she believed a more stable occupation like teaching would be better, but she gradually came to understand that my heart was in broadcasting.) However, more important than whether we always agreed (and what mother and daughter always do, except in movies?), I believe that I have honored her by living as she taught me to live. She taught me to always be ready to do a mitzvah (a positive action that make the world better in some way), and she taught me to avoid being harsh or cruel in how I speak to others. Courtesy and good manners were so important to her; and if she were alive today, I think it would sadden her that both seem to be in short supply. So, once again, this year as every year since she died, I will do a mitzvah in her memory, and I will continue to make an effort to speak courteously. I know I won't always succeed, but she'd want me to keep trying. And so, I will.