A much needed return to civility in 2014

Happy New Year. As I contemplated my first post of the year, I kept coming back to a theme that we need to be more civil with each other. We need to check our filters between our brains and mouths or send button fingers, before we say or submit something that should have been left unsaid or unsent. I was reminded of this when I saw the comments made by a panel of MSNBC commenters regarding an adopted child of color in the Mitt Romney family portrait. The panel decided to make fun off the adopted child who looked different from all of the other Romney family members. Whether I voted for Romney or not (I did not), this is out of line for people to be critical of one of his sons adopting a child.

I was reminded of how one of George W. Bush’s campaigners effectively derailed John McCain’s momentum in the 2000 Republican presidential primary season. McCain was coming off some early wins and Bush was reeling. Yet, one of Bush’s campaign people leaked to the South Carolina press and voters that McCain had fathered an African-American child out-of-wedlock and was raising her. The truth is John and Cindy McCain adopted their Bangladeshi daughter Bridget in 1991. Yet, this lie caused McCain to lose the election in SC and Bush used that momentum to eventually win the nomination. His daughter later in life found out about this story from Googling her own name, so the false story caused her anguish.

In the US, since the marketers and campaigners have segmented our citizens into cliques, we have tended toward a less civil, combative tone. We use words intended to inflame or label people, when people and the issues are more complex. You see the terms Conservative and Liberal or Progressive thrown about to indict people. These words are akin to a one word smear tactic, which is grossly unfair as most people are a quilt of perceptions, beliefs and thoughts. I find myself with views similar to many Americans as someone who is fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. So, what does that make me? Am I wrong to want a Return on Investment on our spending or am I wrong when I want to help people climb a ladder out of poverty or who got laid off by their employer at the age 53 because their salary was too high?

Our friend Roseylinn at www.roseylinn.wordpress.com has an interesting quote from the character Spock in Star Trek on the lack of veracity of name-calling. So, my advice to people is to name call less when people disagree with you and be civil in your disagreement. When people raise their voice or name call or both, I tend to discount their opinions. I would much prefer to watch a panel where people civilly offer their opinions and let the person with an opposing opinion speak. Someone who must shout over the person with opposing view, per the Spock quote, is proving the other’s argument.

On day-to-day matters, we have taken a horrible page from sports participants. Fans have begun taunting the opposing fans, borrowing an extremely poor example from the players. There have been people beaten to death because they pulled for the opposing team. We have seen folks get in arguments over whose team deserved to win, pull a gun and kill someone. We have seen family members kill each other over whose favorite on American Idol won or lost. As a former high school athlete, we were told not to taunt or we would be benched. That may be old school thinking, but it does not make it wrong. If an opponent taunted you, the best way to get back at him would be through playing well. I took particular pride in guarding a taunting basketball opponent by not letting him touch the ball the rest of the game.

Your actions speak more volumes than your words. You vote with your feet. Your kids watch you, your spouse sees you and your co-workers observe you. But, even if no one sees you, you know what you did. What behavior do you wish to show them and yourself? If you are patient and civil with the overworked store clerk, first you will get better service, but you will also be an exemplar for others. If people see you bump a car in a parking lot and go back inside to find the owner or leave an informational note (not a faux note), then people see this. When you return to the Chick-Fil-A to return too much change, then people see this. When you defend the absent like Dr. Wayne Dyer advocates, people hear this.

If you read my posts on gun deaths, I often note that one of the many causes of the increase in gun deaths in America is lack of civil discourse. When people perceive they are being treated with disrespect and have access to weapon, an impulsive act can end one life and ruin another. Here is the trick – if you don’t take offense then you are not offended. There are many life teaching scenes from the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But, when Atticus Finch is spit on by a vile man trying to get him to fight, his courage to walk away is significant. What many do not realize is the easiest thing for him to do would be to fight back. Yet, Atticus did not showing a much greater strength of character. From the trial, it was apparent his assailant had beaten his own daughter, so if someone had it coming, it would have been him.

Let me close with comment I use often and there is no better exemplar than Atticus Finch. Do not mistake kindness for weakness. Gandhi was a great example of civil disobedience, but he fought very hard for people in need in South Africa and India. You can have strong convictions, but treat others like you want to be treated. Kindness is not a weakness. Civility is not a weakness. Acting poorly to others is a weakness.

21 thoughts on “A much needed return to civility in 2014

  1. The *like* widget is not responding this good good 2014 morning. So….again…your reminder that yes, we can all “do better” is a given and…a gift.
    Many wishes for gifts of kindness to us all every one.

  2. because of poor schooling and the barrage of bullshit they are being fed daily”

    — that’s my friend! of course i chuckled.

    the kuna indians are facing those problems on panama’s san blas islands as well.

    thanks for the review! z


  3. Well said. Somehow we’ve come to believe that volume equates right, or name calling equates discourse. I don’t know if this came from sports, or from FOX News, or where, but we’ve lost all civility, and get worse with each day. The story of the MSNBC attack on the Romney family is disgusting, no matter how one feels about the man.

    Thanks for sharing a great first post of the year. This is actually my first read of the year, so we both win!!!

    • Thanks Barney. I feel honored. By the way, we have been talking a little about Vancouver. A friend suggested taking the train from Calgary to Vancouver as it is breathtaking. Have you done that? Have a great year, BTG

      • I’ve heard great things about the trip, but have not actually done it. Time has always been pressing, so we fly direct.

      • I am going to look into for the summer. My kids are very interested in the concept. I keep thinking of the Gordon Lightfoot song about the landscape and train building across Canada.

  4. very nice post; thank you! i often am not able to veer too far off my cyber reading options, but there are times when i see the comments on yahoo or larger news feeds, i am disgusted by the lack of respect and the ‘i’m better than thou’ attitudes, and by the ego brawls that go back and forth between a cluster of people. it makes me glad that i have disconnected from most people like that, and i rarely witness that kind of behavior. in the past, when i do, i usually step between the two and tell the ‘better’ one, ‘you’re better than this… don’t stoop to his level..’

    a moderator in an expat forum called a truce recently regarding differences of opinion that kept going on and on, day after day. enough’s enough. people hear the first time, and sometimes what they hear does stick, even if it’s not true.

    as it’s often said, ‘is it kind? is it necessary? if not it’s best left unsaid.’ i add, ‘is this about ego?’ because some people feel justified thru ego and think it is necessary..

    sigh…thanks again; may we all learn to be kind to our fellow man. z


    • Thanks Hugh. You probably coached tennis during the Nastase, Connors and McEnroe eras, which showed players how not to act. Three of the biggest brats a sport has ever had. All the best, BTG

  5. Maybe debate should be a required subject in school. Too many people equate debate with oneupsmanship. They think if they can speak louder, faster, and come up with nastier epithets, they’ll win the argument and get their point across. Quite to the contrary, the original point of discussion is lost in seething rage, hurt feelings, and disrespect.No one wins.

    • Agreed. I feel on some public forums, people are trying to drown you out and use one liners. When I see the one liner retorts, it usually means they don’t have much substance behind their argument. There is also a measure of cognitive dissonance – my source said this, so it must be right. Thanks for your comments. BTG

  6. All, I saw a panel yesterday where a female CEO was recounting seeing Bill Gates and an ambassador respond to the question what is your greatest concern for the future. Gates noted the difference between those who have access to technology and those who do not. The ambassador said “the death of civility.” I wish I caught his name. Take care all, BTG

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