The reactions over the weekend to the standoff of sorts at the Lincoln Memorial between a Catholic high school student and a Native American veteran said a lot about our nation. Even more is being said now that we know there was a third group involved, which reportedly was verbally abusing both the high school boys and the participants in the Indigenous Peoples rally. (Context matters, remember.)
What all this says isn't good.
I won't get into the politics of what's being said or the inevitable sniping among hyperpartisans or who shoulders what amount of blame. What I will talk about, though, is civility, or the lack thereof.
Yeah, I know, there I go again, but I have good reason. I often refer to the Golden Rule, which posits that you should treat others as you want to be treated. If that's what people are doing now, they apparently want to be bullied, insulted and harassed. I'll never really understand why people are surprised when they're met with the same bad behavior they demonstrate. And yes, I've been guilty of name-calling too.
Incivility has always been with us (accusations of murder, adultery and pimping in a past presidential campaign ... in 1824 ... come to mind), but so has the capacity for civility and kindness for our fellow man. We don't have to like each other, but we should be able to carry on a conversation without resorting to anger and insults. But enough about the shutdown.
I miss those days--and they weren't so long ago--when people would swoop in to help whenever a disaster struck, with no need for someone to make a big deal of it or organize it to death. We wanted to help people in our community. Not the people in our community who agreed with us, but anybody in the community. Natural disasters don't discriminate, so why should we?
But civility applies to more than helping people in need (and bravo to those who've stepped up to help out furloughed federal employees). It should be an everyday thing, something we do without even thinking about it.
Civility "is more than toleration," which is more "live-and-let-live," according to Richard J. Mouw, a professor of Christian philosophy and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary interviewed by PolitiFact. "Genuine civility has to be grounded in empathy--a genuine desire to promote the well-being of others. It has a moral--and I should add--spiritual, component."
Some of us, though, have apparently lost our empathy ... because, you know, it's all about us and what we believe.
The tribalism we see in politics today certainly feeds the spiral of incivility, and the more we accept, the more we get until that's really all that's left. We then find ourselves tweeting out insults or firing off hate mail or nasty phone calls any time we disagree with someone. While we may be echoing the behavior of those at the top, it's not just their fault; we let ourselves do it--we're all complicit in this.
"If voters were to reject uncivil rhetoric, that would help," Kim Fridkin, an Arizona State University political scientist affiliated with the National Institute on Civil Discourse, told PolitiFact. "Or, if people were convinced that uncivil rhetoric had negative effects on people and society, perhaps people would reject incivility. I think we need people in high-profile positions to model civility in politics. This could help."
Former Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, in his December farewell speech, said, "We must restore the culture of comity, compromise, and mutual respect that used to exist here. Both in our personal and public conduct, we must be the very change we want to see in the country. We must not be enemies but friends. ... Restoring civility requires that each of us speak responsibly. That means the president. That means Congress. And that means everyone listening today."
Whatever your personal feelings about Hatch (and he like all of us has been guilty of incivility), you must admit he has a point. Whether we're too consumed in our bubbles to see it is another matter.
Last week on the comment boards for this newspaper, I saw a few signs of civility. For a short while, frequent antagonists ditched the insults and name-calling, and for that time had actual discussion.
Then, of course, someone piped up with an insult and spoiled it all.
I therefore issue a challenge to commenters--well, to everybody, really: For a day, endeavor not to insult or name-call your fellow commenters and just talk to each other as humans (assuming you're all humans and not robots in the army of our cyber overlord; 01001000 01101001, bots). Discuss the issues without bringing in political stance, sexual orientation, or anything else that tends to direct how you respond to people who aren't like you. Don't presume you know what another person is thinking or feeling unless he or she has told you, and don't misrepresent what that person has said. Just talk. Calmly. Deliberately.
Maybe we can start something here. And maybe it won't be a fight. I live in hope.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 01/23/2019
Print Headline: BRENDA LOOPER: The civility war