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7 lessons learned 24 hours after posting an open letter

What kind of parent is she?
What kind of parent is she?
Dafna Michaelson

As my hubby and I were sharing some alone time together and shopping for ingredients to make a French toast lunch I suddenly had a hankering for Taco Bell. I'm not sure why as I have not been to one in longer than I could remember but I wanted something salty and crunchy and if media ads told me anything they said Taco Bell is the place to go. We ditched the ingredients and drove across the street for a "border run." (Does anyone say that anymore?)

I was amazed by how uncomfortable I found myself, staring at the menu with so many options and having no ability to discern what ingredients were in what. The young lady behind the register was staring at me as if I were from Mars. I mean who doesn't know how to order at Taco Bell? I kept waiting for a man in white hat and white apron to jump out of the kitchen and scream "No soup for you!"

But it wasn't the food that I found so unsettling, it was the music playing overhead and the messages of drug use, underage alcohol abuse and promotion of casual sexual encounters because "we are gonna die young" that really got to me as I stared at the advertisement, prominently placed on the back of the disposable cup, for the Taco Bell foundation for Teens promoting "positive opportunities for our nation's youth." The dichotomy was too much.

I called Taco Bell to find out how music was selected. I learned that my particular store was a franchise store and the franchisers were responsible for the music. A little more sleuthing and I learned who the owners and operators of the franchise were and decided to write an open letter. You can read it here:

Why an open letter? That's an excellent question. I wrote the open letter to start a conversation. Even the most beginner of social media users will tell you that Saturday afternoon of a 3 day weekend is not the best time to post but as my husband can tell you I have problems with patience. So post I did.

Here are a few things I learned 24 hours after posting the letter:

1. People like to point fingers.

It took less than an hour for people to peg me as a bad parent. One reader shared the following comment: “If your kid is this easily influenced by a song on the radio you as a parent are not doing your part…”

2. Moral high grounds prevent thorough conversation.

People were more concerned with the fact that I was even eating at a Taco Bell, or worse feeding my children Taco Bell that they never got to the point of the conversation. Commenter: “The bigger atrocity is that your [sic] eating Taco Bell.”

3. People like to call names.

People are eager to criticize someone who puts themselves out there as naive or foolish as this commenter did: “She is being very naive. I also agree the group she should complain to is the singer, her producers, and for added bonus all the fans and radio stations that made the song popular. Talking to taco bell is like trying to plug a tiny hole while ignoring the gaping hole next to it.”

4. Some prefer the silent treatment.

Many would rather you be silent and not start a conversation. “She should be more concerned with other things...”

5. There really is a "one person can’t make a difference" camp.

There are those who just want to throw up their hands and chock it all up to this stuff has always been around and one person can't make a difference are alive and well and living on Facebook. Commenter: “I listened to the most vulgar rap back in the late 80's and 90's, but in no way did it affect my life. It's a song on the radio to make money.”
 and "I think asking Taco Bell to only play music that is ear friendly is not going to happen."

6. There are people who will join the conversation.

There are still people who care and are also disturbed enough to join the conversation. Commenter: “Lyrics are so powerful. Especially when it's repeated over and over - it can change how we think, for better or worse. Teach your children the value of words/lyrics and they'll ignore the harmful artists out there like the plague.” and “We cannot stop anyone from writing the music but we can choose not to play it as if we put our stamp of approval. Music catches your attention and before long the words sink into your head then action can soon follow. We need to have positive uplifting thoughts in our mind which in turn will roll over to those we have contact with. There is enough out there to beat people down and teens have a hard enough time trying to figure life out.”

7. Responding respectfully takes thought and is worth it.

Crafting a response that is respectful and answers thoughtful criticism helps to open your mind and serves to strengthen resolve to make a difference. Here is one of mine: “I appreciate your thoughts. Firstly everyone has guilty pleasures a trip to Taco Bell is not a sin. As for writing to a gaping hole towards Taco Bell my choices are to just ignore and go on with my life or make a statement that may or may not get heard and may or may not start a conscious conversation of what is going on around us in the normal pattern of our lives. It was the dichotomy of the message on Taco Bell's packaging supporting positive growth for teens and the truly damaging messages on the overhead music that truly got to me. I did check out Ke$ha's site and discovered that the troubled artist and her troubled producer were more of a black hole. I'm not going to try to stop damaging music that will always be there. I will however ask small business owners and franchisers to stop for a moment and pay attention to everything they serve.”

I come by a need for conversation honestly. In my senior yearbook my teachers dubbed me: the one most likely to make us aware. I don't know exactly why I care so much. Why I can't be the one who shakes her head quietly and just goes on with her life but I can't. There has not been an article that I've written or news coverage that I have received that hasn't been met with some form of criticism - usually in the form of a direct attack on the type of mother I am. And yet I continue to write and post because the conversationalists outweigh the nay sayers. People are involved right now in conversation about what our roles are as consumers and as small business owners. No, to answer your question, I won't go after the music industry. If artists like Ke$ha wish to continue making this type of harmful music it is their right. And it is the right of consumers to purchase it. And it is the right of those who choose to to listen to it.

My message is about what is played in the businesses we go to when we don't have the choice to get up and change the station. In my personal life, on my own electronic devices, I have the power over what I click and what I play. In a store, geared towards families - and whatever your food politics that is the target audience for fast food, families and teens - I would like to expect music that fits the overall messaging of the product.

I'm sure Taco Bell is working hard for teens I am simply asking them as a company to take one step further and play music that supports the message of their product. Would I do it again? You bet, because as a society it is good to have positive public dialogue on improving the lives we live. So, let’s have a conversation. Do you think small business owners and franchise owners are responsible for the music played overhead in their stores during business hours?

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