Regardless of whether they're blue or red or somewhere in polka dot land, politicians aren't always known for saying the most intelligent or unifying things. But on Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (Rep.) took the latest cake and smeared it all over my ruffled feathers.
As reported by Pam Wright, in an interview with 840 WHAS in Louisville, the governor, while acknowledging a need for safety, found fault with schools across several states canceling classes due to the dangerous cold.
"There's no ice going with it or any snow," Bevin told host Terry Meiners. What happens to America? We're getting soft, Terry, we're getting soft."
"It's better to err on the side of being safe," the governor added, "and I'm being only slightly facetious, but it does concern me a bit that in America on this, and on any number of other fronts, we're sending messages to our young people that, if life is hard, you can curl up in the fetal position in a warm place and just wait until it stops being hard."
Now, I'm not going to claim to be even close to military tough. But even so, my entire mantra of life is "do or do not, there is no try." I know what it's like to run for two and a half hours. I put myself through college with an average of more than 21 credits every semester. And growing up, because we had zero money, I watched my parents Macgyver over and over again just to make ends meet. I distinctly remember one frigid morning in particular where, after doing chores out in the barn, my father came inside, finished with work but broken to tears with the chill in his hands. We never once expected anyone to come to our rescue, and we never once assumed we wouldn't have to be the ones to step up. And if we dared to stop, you can bet your behind we had a dang good reason.
Governor Bevin's comments reflect the increasing internalization of a toxic work ideology, the concept that there's no reason to stop, that if you're really tough, if you're really serious, you'll work through anything. So what if it's so cold your car engine won't turn over? Call an Uber or take a train or walk! (Except... Uber cars aren't starting either, and it's so cold that stations in Chicago had to set fire to railway lines. The average commute is about 26 minutes, and since frostbite can happen in less than 15 minutes at wind chill of less than -18 degrees Fahrenheit, no walking.) So what if the grid is taxed and there's no power or heat in your store or office? That's why laptops have batteries, for goodness sake! (OK, sure, but that doesn't mean the company's service provider is going to be up and able to give you the internet you need to access servers, make calls, or send your emails.)
The governor's comments are also an example of just how early the concepts of "no excuses" and "tough means 24/7" get handed down and ingrained. Many of the kids kept home still aren't even old enough to pack their own lunches for the day, yet there Bevin is, essentially already communicating that they need a stronger backbone.
Closing school or work when it's cold enough to cause death isn't "soft." It's not sending the message that you can just wait until it's easier. It's simply acknowledging that sometimes, even when you've prepared well, there can be something bigger than you. Something powerful you need to respect. And it's acknowledging the fact that, for all of our ideals, our children still live in socioeconomic classes where not everyone can afford a cozy coat. It's sending the message that, if you want to fight and work and learn another day, you have to be intelligent and willing enough to protect yourself when a real risk shows its face. Even the most cutthroat soldier will hunker down and save their shot for when they know they can hit the target, and a powerful bear that hibernates doesn't lose its understanding of how to fight as it sleeps in the den.
I don't coddle my kids. I let them struggle. In fact, I insist they do. There are no participation trophies in this house. They hardly like me for it, and I'm perfectly fine with that. But I also teach them how to be realistic. I teach them how to be compassionate. I teach them that no one can go full steam 100 percent of the time, that it's OK to recharge. I teach them to watch out for dangers that ultimately could hold them back. Like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, I want them to understand that you learn how to fight so you don't have to fight, and that you don't always win with brute force.
So Governor Bevin, please don't insult me (and thousands of others). Don't promote this idea that just because it's not business-as-usual that people are weak. Don't assume that, as American workers fight to keep pipes from bursting, as they try to handle this on top of shutdown woes, as they try to feed their kids without being able to travel to the grocery store, as they look ahead and wonder if the massive heat bill will mean skipping other essentials next month, as they push their bodies and minds to the limit to keep their personal and professional promises, that they aren't warriors using every trick they know. Because they are. Shame on you, Governor, for being unable to see it.