Riley Avenue Elementary School student council members spoke to their peers about kindness on Unity Day in the school district Oct. 24. Courtesy photo: RIverhead Central School District

Maybe we all need to go back to school.

“Schools across the Riverhead Central School District took a unified stand against bullying and for kindness, acceptance and inclusion by celebrating Unity Day on Oct. 24,” a press release from the district’s public relations firm announced.

I’ve heard too many grown-ups scoff at concepts like “acceptance” and “inclusion” as political correctness.

And bullying? That’s become a regular part of modern life, where anything goes on social media and political discourse has been reduced to name-calling and character assassination.

During this week, as Riverhead schoolchildren had character lessons about standing up for others, accepting people who are different from ourselves and preventing bullying, things went particularly awry in the United States of America.

A Florida man mailed pipe bombs — 14 known so far — to two former presidents, a presidential candidate, elected officials, former government officials and a major American news organization.

A Pennsylvania man armed with an assault rifle and three handguns entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and, shouting hate speech against Jews, shot and killed 11 people and seriously injured several others.

How are children to make sense of the world around them? They hear lessons about about acceptance and inclusion in school, then hear relatives and people on the news rail against people who hold different political views, or people who practice different religions, or people who came to America from other countries, or people whose skin is a different color than ours.

Don’t say this doesn’t happen. You know it does. Every day.

How are children supposed to process these mixed messages? What are we really teaching them?

I was chatting about this sorry state of affairs with Congressman Lee Zeldin Thursday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the addiction research and treatment facility at the Calverton Enterprise Park. We certainly don’t agree with each other on a lot of issues, but we respect each other. I believe he is a decent person with good motives. Thursday, Lee and I agreed on this: We need to tone it down. Each and every one of us.

Instead, we get into new arguments about whose fault it is. Democrats blame President Trump and Republicans. Republicans blame Nancy Pelosi/Chuck Schumer and Democrats. Everybody blames “the media.”

And we get angrier. Our language grows more harsh. And we get angrier still.

What does this accomplish? There’s no winner in this race to the bottom of the gutter. Hate destroys us all.

I recall the words of a hymn written in 1955 for the International Children’s Choir:

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  (Listen here.)

If we all — each and every one of us — live by that principle, there would be peace.

Ours would be a world where people can disagree as adults and settle their differences as adults, a world where people accept one another despite those differences, a world where we stand up for one another against bullying and discrimination, where kindness and inclusion and love conquer all.

That’s the world our children deserve to inherit.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.