This past weekend, like many others in recent years, I spent the majority of my time watching my son's baseball team compete in their latest tournament. All players on the team are, or are about to become, 14 years old.
One of our more emotional players was experiencing some frustration while pitching. Disdain for either the home plate umpire's tight strike zone or the opponent's ability to connect with the ball was clearly visible. To his credit he didn't yell or become verbally abusive, you could simply see it on his face. The young man's father told the manager that he should remove his child from the game for displaying a bad attitude. Dad didn't believe his son should be rewarded with playing time while behaving in what he deemed to be an immature and self-indulgent manner. During a previous game, a player was removed for a similarly minor infraction and the opposing team's manager complimented our team for modeling good sportsmanship by holding the player accountable.
Adults on our team are holding their children accountable by challenging them to express their emotions and desire to win in ways that are respectful of their opponents and that are not immature and self-indulgent in the context of a team sport. Sounds reasonable enough. So if it's good enough for our children, shouldn't we be holding ourselves to the same standard?
Which brings us to the case of Representative Joe Wilson, who shouted at the president in a manner usually reserved for his colleagues during town hall meetings. But this was no town meeting, but was instead a formal gathering of Congress, a joint session convened so that the chief executive could make his case for health care reform. And even though an apology from the congressman followed later in the evening, civility, a commodity already in decline, took a highly visible hit as a result of his outburst. Elders of the party were quick to chastise and denounce this obvious breach in protocol, but I suspect that the damage has already been done. Here is yet another example of adults behaving in ways that would result in punishment if the offender was a child.
The excuses for immature and self-indulgent behavior in politics and public gatherings such as town meetings are always the same. They involve things like emotions getting the best of us or a lack of ability to control our passions. Our frustration reached the breaking point. The list goes on and on. If this happens in school it results in a student being sent to the principals office and may even lead to a call to parents. If it happens on a ball field it often leads to a seat on the bench or an ejection from the game.
What is the response when it happens in the United States Congress?
There are important challenges to be faced that will require the best efforts of serious and responsible citizens and legislators of all political stripes. Adults must demand the same level of civility and respect from themselves that they demand from their children. And if a baseball game is worthy of maturity and dignity, shouldn't a debate on one of the most complex and important pieces of domestic legislation in our nation's history be given the same consideration?
The president said the time has come to act. It's also time to grow up and to hold ourselves accountable to the expectations we have for others.