Keiara Bell, a 13-year-old African-American from a rough neighbourhood in Detroit has become famous – and for all the right reasons. She held her own in a tough debate with a politician, Monica Conyers, who she reprimanded for bad public behaviour. Ms Bell’s skills in debate reveal her to be not only intelligent beyond her years but an extraordinarily gifted and natural-born ethicist.
Ms Conyers, president pro tempore of the city council hit local headlines when she name-called the council's president “Shrek” after an angry exchange of views during a hearing in April. When she was invited to meet with a panel of six-graders the following month, it is unlikely she was expecting to meet the ethical tour de force that is Ms Bell, who stood intellectually head and shoulders above her peers (and probably well above most adults) during the debate.
After suggesting that Ms Conyers had “jeopardised” her political position, Ms Bell went on to make three other key points: that disrespecting others during a debate, no matter what the circumstances, is wrong; that even if all human beings experience frustration, adults “have [a] choice” not to act out that frustration in a disrespectful manner; and that it is wise to think before you act.
The final piece of advice – to think before you act – is clearly what Ms Bell excels in and what, along with her natural ethical conscience makes her so special. These qualities – self-awareness and ethical conscientiousness are signs of a mature mind and emotional consciousness – qualities that are desperately needed in those who work on the frontline of civil services such as politicians, social workers, health workers, teachers and career advisors.
Ms Bell’s wise advice was, fittingly, the last word in the debate. Ms Conyers backed out at this point with the unremittingly pugilistic: “Look, I’m not going to be combative with you young lady,” proving that she hadn’t learned a thing.
* The front page of the Wall Street Journal ran the story on May 27 2008, “Detroit Politician Gets Lesson in Civility From a 13-Year-Old”. You can view the events (the hearing, as well as Ms Bell’s debate with Ms Conyers) at: YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPpzqTF4K-Q&feature=related