I’ve been thinking lately about how mean people are. Bullies in school or on the bus, cowards who say things online that they would never dare say to someone in person, or people who say hateful things about our nation’s leaders. What makes someone think they have the right to say or do such hurtful things? Why are people so mean? What happened to common decency and respect?

We can (and should) disagree on issues. It’s part of the beauty of democracy. I think what matters is how we communicate our differences and our disagreements. There is no need to be personal, violent, or disrespectful. While some believe that it is our elders who deserve our respect, I personally believe that everyone deserves respect. It’s about more than age or position.

I’ve heard that our country is more politically divided now than any other time in history. Someone I know saw an “Obama ’08” sticker on my car and said, “He’s a terrorist!” I was stunned and unsure of how to respond. A terrorist?! Words have meaning and we all need to think before we speak. A terrorist is someone who flew a plane into the Twin Towers. Our president is not that person. (Please note, this should be obvious.) Regardless of whether or not you agree with a person’s opinion, or in this case, their policy, that person still deserves your respect. Especially if that person is your Commander in Chief.

The photo below melts my heart. To this child, this was his automatic response to meeting the president. Notice the reactions of the surrounding people. Surprise. Adoration. Shock. This shouldn’t be surprising, this should be common practice. It’s the office that deserves our respect. Period. It’s your family member who deserves your respect. It’s your co-worker who deserves your respect. It’s your fellow human being who deserves your respect.

A young boy along the rope line salutes President Barack Obama after the President spoke at the NALEO Conference in Orlando, Florida, June 22, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Let’s all consider the words we choose when communicating our disagreements. Words are powerful. You have the power to build someone up or tear them down. As my mother always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”