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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 Email her at

Editorial on 01/23/2019

Print Headline: BRENDA LOOPER: The civility war


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  • Packman
    January 23, 2019 at 10 a.m.

    Miss Brenda - You make a reasonable and necessary challenge which I will be the first to accept.

  • blooper13
    January 23, 2019 at 10:11 a.m.

    Bravo, Pack! I'm doing it as well today.

  • blooper13
    January 23, 2019 at 10:55 a.m.

    I spoke too soon, obviously, as you name-called seven minutes later on another thread. Sigh.

  • mrcharles
    January 23, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    Now as to sea bass, we should give him a mulligan. I would note on the announcement of Chelsea being pregnant, he was not a horse's culo like many were, but gave a humanity response , wishing health . Packman should receive a kudo where due.

    In the spirit of humanity, brenda, lets give packman a mulligan for a 24 hour period. And it does not bother me one bit to ask ,politely, for the mulligan. Perhaps one of my many sins, will be forgiven.... who knows?

    eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

  • GeneralMac
    January 23, 2019 at 11:49 a.m.

    MRCHARLES........aren't you a day late and a dollar short after that atheist "dig" you put in your fake tribute to MLK yesterday?

  • blooper13
    January 23, 2019 at 11:50 a.m.

    In the spirit of civility, he gets a pass—one. He knows he can be better.

  • MaxCady
    January 23, 2019 at 11:57 a.m.

    Aaahh, bless your little heart. But thanks for playing.

  • seitan
    January 23, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.

    Oh. This is going to be fun.

  • mrcharles
    January 23, 2019 at 2:33 p.m.

    GM, perhaps you missed my plea for forgiveness of one of my many sins. First step to redemption is to admit the sin.

    But in the spirit of civility, I would note that my fake MLK tribute , if properly understood, would not be called fake. It was pointed out that even our heroes can have faults, which includes your run of the mill human being too. I did not compare him to the angels, but would put him up there with Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine,Democritus , Epicurus and Socrates [ if in fact he existed] as we could do worse. Just want that to be made clear. I would for your enjoyment and for your edification, suggest you watch his comment on maladjustment, a short but effective dissertation on being defined by others in a way that would reduce your own humanity but being bold enough to be a man about empathy and what makes us human.

  • Packman
    January 23, 2019 at 3:42 p.m.

    Hey Miss Brenda - Not sure John Brummett got your memo. Today he referred to the kid at the center of the Covington High thingy as the "creepily smiling kid." Did JB just pipe up with an insult and spoil it all? But who did I call a name?