Some good advice for our new Congressional leaders comes from something I used to hear regularly while growing up in a small North Carolina town. The expression was, “Ya’ll play pretty now.” This admonishment was always delivered by a mother, grandmother or female in the household. I usually heard this on my way out the door to play with the other neighborhood boys as she knew roughhousing was usually the norm. This little piece of wisdom meant no fighting, pushing, bullying or other activities that usually led to one or more injuries, hurt feelings and finger pointing by the parents.
“Playing pretty” didn’t mean not competing on the baseball field or giving yourself up easily in tag but it asked us to be civil to one another and find a way to play together so we could all have a good time. The neighborhood bully-and there always was one-never quite got the message and typically wanted to stir things up to get his way and force the issue both physically and emotionally. Bullies wanted to break in line. They had to bat first and be the one feared by the other kids. They were usually bigger and stronger or at least talked tougher.
The problem is yesterday’s bully is today’s sap. Kids grow at different times and rates and a child who had always been the biggest in his class or neighborhood might be outgrown by others by a later age. Then, it’s payback time and that’s not what our mothers and grandmothers meant by “playing pretty.” I recall a bully in my sixth grade class that, as long as he was absent, our baseball game at recess would be great competition and we would discuss that last out or key hit throughout the rest of the day. On the days the bully showed up wanting to play, we seldom had those memorable experiences. Always the instigator, the bully caused the game and relationships to be based upon fear and intimidation.
One moral of this story is “playing pretty” most often results in something good happening such as a home run hit to win a pick-up baseball game, finding an arrowhead in the woods or just building relationships by messin’ around on a hot summer afternoon. So, does the one who has been bullied remember how rewarding it is to “play pretty” when he has grown to be 6-foot 3-inches with a 46 inch chest and has the opportunity to be the bully?
That’s the position we find ourselves in today as Democrats. Republicans have been the bully for the past 12 years and most certainly the last 6 years. During that time key issues were decided on a partisan basis and Democrats in Congress had little opportunity to even bring their bills to the floor for a vote. And why not, the Democrats did plenty of bullying prior to that in much the same manner and with as much acrimony as the Republicans.
It is said the Senate in not the same body it once was. While at one time most Senators had excellent relationships on both sides of the aisle, today there is much less trust outside their own parties. I can assure everyone “playing pretty” does not include choosing up sides and throwing rocks at one another and coming back the next day with the same sides and doing it all over again much as the Senate has done over the past few sessions. Sooner or later someone gets hurt and the kids on each side develop a real hatred and distrust of the other group.
Soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi, a mother and grandmother, has an opportunity to create a “ya’ll play pretty” atmosphere as our mothers and grandmothers did. As she meets with her fellow Democrats and the current administration to determine what legislation will come to a vote, will she be looking for payback or to re-create an attitude of competitive cooperation? Go ahead and call me an idealist but let’s hope she takes her cue from the southern grandmother by encouraging the “kids” in Congress to “play pretty now.”