Wear Your Bike Helmet

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Here is my scientific observation based on empirical evidence: while children are susceptible to head injuries and drowning, once they reach adulthood they are immune from such injuries. Isn’t this correct? My evidence is based on the large number of people I see riding their bikes with their kids where the kids have helmets on but the parents do not. The same is for boating: I see kids wearing their personal flotation devices (PFDs) while adults just have them nearby.family-cycling-2010-photo

I’ll think more about this but first, now that the elections are over, the post-election punditry begins.

I’ve been reading some, not a lot, of articles trying to dissect the recent elections. Most of the speculation remains just that—speculation. What will happen with a Democratic President and Republican Congress? We don’t really know until we get there. So many talking heads will speculate, but the reality will need to present itself in time.

I would rather read backwards and dissect what did or didn’t happen on Tuesday. I am very happy that our state took the initiative and supported universal background checks for gun purchases, a landmark vote that will hopefully reverberate throughout the nation—a dedicated citizenry taking steps to create some measure to curb gun violence in our country. The organized Jewish community supported this measure and worked hard to get it to pass.

But aside from that, I read with interest about turnout. This always is an issue for examination, especially during these midterm elections. Analysts examine how many people turn out, who turns out and for whom do they vote, picking apart the electorate by demographic. Voting in midterm elections is notoriously low, and this election was no different.

One of the demographic analyses I read had to do with the “millennials”—those ages 18-30 who turned out in low numbers. Commentators have taken note that the electorate in this past election skewed older, and that if younger voters had turned out, based on the political leanings found within this demographic, the election might have been different.

While I haven’t done the research, this strikes me as different than what happened six years ago when Obama was first elected, when Obama rode the tide of young voters into the White House, and that attracting young voters was a key part of the strategy. Of course, the population of who makes up those “young voters” is constantly changing. Those first eligible to vote in these elections were 12 when Obama was first elected in 2008, and this demographic shift is greater (moving from teenager to adulthood) than say moving from the 30-45 age bracket to the 45-60 one.

[I remember this hit home for me once a few years ago when I was talking to a class at South Puget Sound Community College. I was there to talk about Judaism to a class in world religions, and after my presentation I had an open Q and A session. Most had to do with Jewish practice and belief, but one person asked me if I thought a Jewish person would ever be a candidate for national office. It struck me as odd that he should ask remembering how Joseph Lieberman was the Vice Presidential candidate on Al Gore’s ticket in 2000, until I realized that he and his classmates were probably 9 or 10 at the time of that election.]

It is this last statistic of young voters that is interesting to me, and I would be curious to dig deeper. I don’t know if anyone keeps these stats, but since turn out is generally low in elections, I’m curious as to how many of the parents of these non-voting millennials also didn’t vote. Do non-voters beget non-voters?

My hunch is that there may be a correlation. If kids get the message when they are growing up that public participation isn’t worthwhile or important, then when the time comes for them to take an active role in the political process, they won’t. And I don’t mean that parents must instill a particular ideology in their offspring—that may not work—but if parents have respect for the process and act on the importance of civic engagement, then that message will be passed to our kids.

And we do this by modeling. Back to the bike helmets and the PFDs—by not wearing helmets or PFDs while insisting that our children do so, we are sending the wrong message. First of all, it is extremely dangerous. We know adults can have major head injuries from bike accidents or drown from boating accidents; those who don’t wear protective gear are taking a huge risk. And second, by not doing so, we are passing along these bad habits and conveying the message that “this is for kids, but not for adults.” We can’t just tell our children to do it and not do it ourselves, for when those kids get older, I bet they will also stop wearing their helmets.

And what goes for voting, and what goes for personal safety, goes for Judaism as well. If we want our kids to live engaged Jewish lives, then we need to as well. We can’t just tell them to, or send them off to synagogue when we don’t engage ourselves. We can’t say, “this is for kids, but not for adults.” We need to do it ourselves. There is no one right way to do this, and our children’s Jewish lives may end up looking different than ours, but if we don’t model spiritual connection, meaning making, respect for tradition, engagement with learning, and participation and practice, then our kids will leave Judaism, like their ballot and bike helmet, behind.

And when that happens, we may not like the results.

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