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Do As I Say, Not As the President Did: Why Obama's Funeral Selfie Was All Sorts of Wrong

President Obama

This would have been an appropriate moment for a selfie

“There’s a time and a place for everything.”

How often do you say that to your kids? Take picking their nose, for example: If it’s behind a closed bathroom door, it’s totally appropriate. Onstage during the school’s winter concert? Totally not.

With the relatively recent advent of smartphones, there has come a whole new set of etiquette rules dictating when and where it’s OK to use them — and when and where it’s absolutely not.

President Obama is in South Africa this week for events surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela. On Tuesday the president was at a memorial service and was photographed taking a selfie with the Danish prime minister. No, it wasn’t a funeral, as Babble’s Cecily Kellog pointed out. There was some laughter in the service, too. It was also a long service — clocking in at four hours. And it was the prime minister holding the smartphone, not the president.

But, really? Seriously? Here, one of the most revered men in recent history is being commemorated on the occasion of his death and a camera is being whipped out for a giggly photo? What if your kid did that? You’d probably trash their phone.

Just because the mood at the service wasn’t somber at the moment the selfie was taken doesn’t make it OK. As parents, and, in Obama’s case, as world leaders, we need to model for our children (and our citizens) who we want them to be and how we’d like them to represent our families (and our country). A seasoned politician savvy enough to be elected to be leader of the free world — twice — knows how quickly anything he does can be taken out of context. He should be leading by example, not acting like he doesn’t know any better, because you know he does.

“Do as I say, not as I do” is a dangerous way to present yourself to a child or a nation. Just because the selfie is now a thing with its own spot in the dictionary, doesn’t mean we have carte blanche to do it everywhere and at any time. Several dictionaries are considering adding “twerk,” too, so would that have made it OK for the president to do that at yesterday’s ceremony honoring Mandela?

Maybe more people wear jeans to church and the theater now than they did a generation ago. Hats indoors? Sure, why not? Decorum evolves along with the times, but taking pictures at solemn events for purely selfish entertainment purposes — we’re not there. Who knows if we ever will be, but should that day come to pass, it’s doubtful that even then, the president smiling and laughing while others are grieving and mourning, will ever be seen as a shining example for his — and our — children.

Just as our kids embarrass themselves when picking their nose in front of an audience, President Obama has embarrassed himself and all of us by demonstrating bad form at a time when he needed to have a modicum of respect, somberness and dignity.

Photo credit: Pete Souza/Flickr

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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