Columns 2007

Kids can spot hypocrisy a mile away

Here’s the thing about kids. They have a talent for sniffing out hypocrisy.  If you want to know why the war on drugs is such a miserable failure, you need go no further than this.  “Don’t smoke pot. Drugs are bad for you,” has limited effectiveness when spoken by someone holding a glass of wine. It’s the hypocrisy factor.

We all start out life thinking our parents are omnipotent. The first time we catch them in something less than the truth is usually the first time we start to question their previously unquestioned power in our universe.

When I was young, my parents didn’t have much money. They worked hard in a little mom and pop store that was open six and a half days a week. Sunday afternoon was their only break. So if we were going to do something as a family, that’s when it would happen.

Being on a short financial string meant my parents had to be somewhat creative in figuring out what to do together.  I don’t know how it evolved, but eventually Sunday afternoons meant a ride to either the near-near airport or the far-far airport. Of course, my brother and I always opted for the far-far airport since this was back in the day when our parents did not chauffeur us around all week. This car ride was a very special occasion.

But my parents were often exhausted by Sunday afternoon. The idea of driving to the far-far airport – a good sixty minute round trip – didn’t thrill them. The near-near airport was only a twenty minute round trip.  So we would all climb in the car and dad would drive around the block a few times and then go to the near-near airport while claiming it was the other one.

When my brother and I figured this little scam out, we took our first step towards independence. Our parents were no longer the absolutes in our world. They had lied to us. And if they lied to us about the airport, what else did they lie to us about? 

So when we talk to kids about drugs and alcohol and why they are substances that can ruin their lives, we have to be very careful to tell them the truth.

This is a problem we all face in dealing with our children. But in Bush Alaska, it is an even bigger problem because there is no place to hide. In any given village, everyone knows everyone else’s business. If you aren’t being one hundred percent on the up and up with kids, they’ll find out.

It’s been over twenty years since the Alaska Native sobriety movement first stirred in the Bush.  People looked at the devastation in their villages and decided that the only way to deal with the problems was to deal with them soberly. Getting sober simply had to be the first step.  It’s a great concept and a wonderful ideal to aim for.

But the sad reality is that in too many villages throughout Alaska you can still be a drunk or a druggie and hold a position of power.  You can sit on councils holding themselves out as leadership for their community and its youth. Some leaders only use substances when out of the village in the big city and think that no one will know or that it doesn’t count. People still go to the polls and vote for active alcoholics and drug abusers and then wonder why their children have problems staying sober.

Communities still led by active alcoholics and drug abusers are communities whose heads are collectively stuck where the sun don’t shine.  Young people look at these supposed leaders and the only message they get is that it doesn’t matter if you are sober or not. What matters is who you know, what your family connections are, and whether you are getting messed up with the right people.  It doesn’t matter what you say to young people if your actions give them an entirely different message. They just need to look at your life and know what they can get away with.

The Native sobriety movement is undercut every time a Native leader who is still using holds him or herself out as some kind of model to their youth when, in fact, they are only models for hypocrisy.

Getting sober won’t solve the problems our villages or our state face. But getting sober is the fist step in actually facing them. Until then, hypocrisy will continue to lead to troubled villages, drunken youth and statewide levels of domestic violence and sexual assault that horrify all but the most calloused among us.