Saturday, December 31, 2016

Can We Just Be Civil this Year?

My mother-in-law moved from New England to Kansas in a covered wagon. She watched her children jet their way around the globe and pass through the door from the space age and transition into the unexplored information age. Today, we pedal hard to keep pace; thus, Taylor Chapman walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts shop with her phone in hand. Once inside, she recorded an eight-minute video transaction with a clerk, launched it globally and received 6.5 million views in return.

In this fast-paced fluidity, people are “testing out the boundaries” of what seems to have suddenly become a “new political climate,” concludes Stephen O’Connor, Louisville Psychiatrist. Such circumstances, avoidable and otherwise, push us into potential hurricane winds as 2017 becomes reality. Viewing our differences as adversarial, and people different from us as adversaries, we demographically dissect ourselves ethnically, politically, and religiously, not to mention economically.

The more we defend this behavior, the more we lose our sense of the common good, which leaves us swimming in shark-infested waters with questionable ability, unpredictable behavior, and untested equipment. That is troubling, to say the least!

Stephen Carter has given thoughtful and constructive thought to this business of relating to one another: Civility Manners Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy Carter/Basic Books/NY/1998). I find his thinking helpful for facing the next four years of our national history. His theme of civility is a quality I find much needed today but very short in supply. Carter suggests, “Nasty language, whether vulgar or violent or simply bigoted, does nothing to encourage a thoughtful and reasoned response. It sparks anger or shame but not dialogue. So it makes it harder for us to talk to each other, and thus hurts democracy.”

If this is true, we are in for some troubled conversations, for if everyone is to be heard today, we will each need to earn the right to be heard by first becoming good listeners. With that in mind, we will need to stick to the thought(s) being discussed; we will find it necessary to value the rights of the person speaking (or writing); and we will attack ideas only, and intentionally avoid attacking the people speaking [or writing].

Such behavior of civility should be the norm of a good team member whether one is red, yellow, black, or white; rich or poor; citizen or emigrant. Carter believes “If we fail to distinguish desire from right, we will not understand that rights are sensible and wise only within particular contexts that give them meaning” (p. 69). To this he would add) “And once we are persuaded that we have no background values in common, it is a very small step to being persuaded that we are not a people at all.” (p.95).

Carter points to a principle reason for our social fragmentation when he concludes too many people “feel” deprived of their proper social status, be it an issue of color, economics, religion, or morality. They feel “their accepted place” in our society has been replaced--wrongly displaced

Civility becomes a very personal issue. It suggests a common code of social behavior, and whether or not we will intentionally live lawfully. Civility is a word that divides us between people who practice civil discourse and live responsibly by intent, and people who by choice reject civility, preferring to live only by their own moral code.

For whatever reason, individual responsibility to maintain “law and order” seems to be in short supply today, leaving everybody free to blame everyone else for whatever the perceived problems might be. Here, Carter draws a sharp distinction; he writes, “Our ability to discipline ourselves to do what is right rather than what we desire is what distinguishes us from animals” (p. 111).

While we debate peripheral issues of whether or not we are Democrats, Republicans, or Libertarians; socialists or capitalists; and we argue that we are a Republic rather than a Democracy, the real question seems to be “Are we going to live like human beings who act thoughtfully, constructively, and intentionally, or will we live like animals that exist by whatever instinct that animal has?

I‘m reminded of Mama Skunk and her two little skunks, In and Out. One day “In” got lost. Mama ordered “Out” to find “In”. Don’t come back without him, she declared. It did not take long before Out found In and the two little skunks returned home together. When Mama asked Out how he found In so quickly, he quickly replied, “In-stinct!”

Playing a huge role in our individual behavior today is a mass communication system that drives our behavior considerably. Thus Carter writes: “So if we glorify killing in our films and our music, select aggressive metaphors in everyday speech, and declare that our every cause is a war, we are proclaiming ourselves to be people of violence” (p. 154).

“Television has grown so violent over the past two decades,” concludes Carter, “that no serious researcher any longer doubts that over exposure to televised images of violence helps transform gentle children into brutal adults” (p. 158).

I have no comprehensive cure-all, no panacea, but I offer two areas pf personal behavior in which every single person will make a personal choice as to which side of the fence they will stand on.

1) We will be civil in all our relationships—by intent. Or, we will reject civility and choose  division, disharmony,  chaos, and destruction of the social structure by which we relate to each other.

2) We will take charge of our entertainment menu and feed our minds a diet of what is good and pure and purposeful, or we will  reject that poppycock and assert our right of war, violence, and self-seeking destruction that will eventually destroy our social fabric and leave us wishing for a return to freedom, with liberty, and justice for all.

Recalling the comment referenced earlier by Stephen O’Connor, perhaps we should give some credence to the “new political climate” and hear his conclusion, which was “And its sort of up to the rest of us to appropriately push back and say that’s not acceptable behavior” (Winchester Sun, 1-7-17-A5).

From Warner’s World, this is

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