If you know something about the explosion in the sale of T-shirts after Marlon Brando wore his so well in “Streetcar Named Desire,” you will know what I’m talking about

We humans are great mimics.

Babies learn a great deal by watching and listening to their mothers, then doing, or trying to do, what they do and say. The young and impressionable keep learning by imitation, by trying on behaviors and repeating words and they gradually and profoundly introject, or adopt, the opinions, feeling sets and attitudes of the people they love and admire.

There is no stopping this. This is the way of our species and others to learn about the world, to form our view of others, to learn about love and the use of power.

Conscious parents know this and are careful about the ways the speak and behave in front of their children. Unconscious parents, for better or worse, pass on their habitual ways of communicating and acting and their children absorb it.

This does not necessarily end when we become adults. When we admire someone—a leader, a teacher, a sports figure—we want to do what they do, say what they say and be like them in the world. After seeing Sean Connery pour himself a single malt scotch, look at it and sip it, I still want to go home and have a drink.

Advertising folks know this well.

Why this is important now is the dialogue going around this nation about politics, religion, marriage, sex, money and our humanness. In the recent campaign and in our mainstream and social media we have lowered the bar in the way we speak to each other.  We publicly question the size of a man’s genitals. We talk about grabbing a woman’s genitals. We call for a US Senator running for President to be jailed. We used horrible expressions to describe the candidates of each party. And we continue it as we label the President-elect with words that make me wince.

Our children are watching and listening. Not only our children, but the impressionable among us are watching and listening and giving themselves the permission to use these words and these attitudes in public statements. This is how the level of public dialogue is brought closer to a level of violence.

Communications exists in order to create meaning. We can use our considerable powers to speak to each other in order to create synergy, to nurture and to collaborate. We can also use our words to compete, manipulate, condemn and render someone insignificant.

Please be careful—no matter your political views—how you speak to each other and about each other. We are continually teaching each other what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated.

Your children and the other people you care about are watching and listening.


John Thomas Wood