Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vitriol vs. Civility


I am weary of the wholesale vitriol that dominates the public arena today. In the past couple of years, I have gone from a person who loved nothing more than to watch CNN, Fox, and MSNBC battle it out on the air waves to one who can hardly bear to watch any one of those networks. It's not that I don't like to hear all the different sides of an issue, because I do. In fact, that's why I used to watch all three in the first place. What I don't like is the constant bickering, back-biting, and downright rudeness that now prevails.

I used to watch the Sunday news programs, Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopoulos (now Christiane Amanpour) religiously. Both are still a main source of political news for me, as I find them a little less objectionable than the malignant trio listed above. But oh, how I miss Tim Russert! That man knew how to fight fair and keep an argument civil.

There was a time when the folks in Washington DC could keep an argument civil as well...at least, civil enough to get something done for our country. Personal attacks via the media still occurred, but they were more the exception than the rule. Today the rule is to hit your opponent with as much garbage as you can put your hands on and see how much of it will stick. (What doesn't stick, stinks, and so do the hands of those who throw it.) A conversation about ideas should not be punctuated with pestilence.

Of course, it isn't just Washington that demonstrates the lamentable lack of civility in public discourse. All you have to do is walk through a mall, a high school, a city council meeting, or even a neighborhood. People don't know how to talk to each other anymore, and affording every individual the basic respect his humanity demands is a fading concept.

Respect for the rights of others is the cornerstone of democracy, and such respect cannot occur in a vacuum. We need to hear each other out with civility, acknowledging that those who disagree with us (no matter how strongly) are still entitled to their opinions, and that not seeing eye to eye with our political or other positions does not a character flaw make. The character flaw is all in the delivery, on either side.

As is true with most other things, it begins in the family. If we will model and teach respect for others (along with courtesy of speech and action) to our children, we have reason to hope that the snowball of civility will keep rolling. Those seeds of respect are engrained early, and planting them deeply appears to be something of a lost art. My childhood friends and I, for instance, would never have considered setting one foot on a neighbor's property without permission, nor would we have called that neighbor by his or her first name. The language we used was carefully monitored, not just by our parents, but by every adult who came into contact with us. In fact, there was a cooperative effort by adults to raise children who treated others as they would wish to be treated themselves, and it seemed to work rather well. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass (Alma 37:33), and the small and simple things we've abandoned seem to be having as great an effect in their absence as they did when we embraced them. Unfortunately, that effect is tipping us in the wrong direction, but it's never too late for an about face. The forward march will be worth it.

In the meantime, it is our responsibility to let elected officials know (with our votes, with our letters, and with our personal behavior) that we have expectations beyond their political views. If they are going to be successful in serving our nation, they must transcend their own inadequacies and put the nation's concerns first, above their own. Senators and congressmen/women must be willing and able to work with opposing factions to find solutions that will bring some degree of relief to both sides. In the final analysis, the name of a winning political game must be compromise, and it won't happen without respect. It can't, because being willing to compromise requires a belief that people who don't agree with us have rights, too...and that liberty and justice for all is not the same as liberty and justice for people who see all things our way.

Put simply, it's not my way or the highway; it's our way or the tollway. And the longer America's leaders take to recognize the inalienable rightness of that truth, the higher the toll our country will continue to pay.

17 comments:

Brian Miller said...

hear hear...solid post sue...it does begin at home...and how we treat each other does make a difference...

washington is a source of angst for me...i dont know how we fix it honestly..but our words are a good strart

LeAnn said...

Amen to all of that! I agree with you on every aspect. I think you should send these thoughts into a newspaper. I really get tired of the political arena.
I too feel like our children are not being taught civility. I have also been noting that children are not being taught to have good manners. I have a few of my many grandchildren that don't know how to say may I have this, thank you and please.
Thanks for yur thoughts today and blessing to you!

Cherie said...

Very well said Sue! I heartily agree with everything.
I personally think that there are many reasons for the breakdown of civilized conversation in the world today - Technology being one. People just don't talk to each other anymore, they text or e-mail and it is not the same.
Also, the family unit is disinegrating and with it the values of respect, courtesy and communication.
My first thought after the earthquake in D.C. was that maybe God is sending a little wake up call over there. Hhhhhmmmmm

Jocelyn Christensen said...

I miss Tim too! :(

Stacy Crawford said...

amen

Gail said...

Very well said!!!

Pondside said...

Well said! I noticed on a newscast the other night that the anchorman attributed something to The Obama Regime. How sad. I remember a time when no matter what one's politics, The President was Mr President or President Obama.

Dixie Mom said...

Agreed, agreed and agreed! No disagreement here!

karen said...

I agree - mutual respect is something sorely lacking today. Everyone wants it/thinks they deserve it, but few do anything to deserve and/or refuse to give it to anyone who disagrees with them. I'm so tired of the meanness, the outright viciousness of so many in political debates today. I think a lot of people feel that you should be able to say and do anything you please, but it's causing such a breakdown in our society. It makes me sad.
And I miss Tim Russert too. He was always a gentleman, always courteous and respectful of everyone. Most of the media could take a real lesson from his example.

Stef said...

Amen!

PⒿ @ $ € € ₦$ ₣®0₥... said...

I couldn't agree more! The lack of civility, respect and common courtesy everywhere is shameful. I could really get up on a soapbox about this. And when public servants become politicians things tend to get nasty in their arena.
The media is a reflection of what the public is.....the more polarized they get, the higher the network ratings are. I don't watch.

There are two saving graces (for me): one is Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. He is very well informed and he makes comedy out of the same things that are troubling to folks like you and me. The other are the new MSNBC commercials. Mind you, I don't watch MSNBC for the reasons I already stated, but the commercials reflect what I feel.

Sue said...

I enjoy both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Funny men!

=)

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Well said, Sue! I agree with LeAnn that you should send this to the NY & LA Times and the Washington Post.

Anna M said...

wow. great minds do think alike! ;)

I loved it. Especially the last four sentences: those I felt in my bones.

Grandma Honey said...

Oh I know what you mean about how times have changed and respect seems to have gone by the wayside.

I also don't watch the news like I use to. For me it all changed after 911.

Francisca said...

I'm not American, but I agree with you on almost all points. Well said, Sue. I am a news addict, but can't bear to watch/read mass media any more. It's now a crime to be in the center, yet polarization is our way to h*ll in a hand basket. What does it say about a country where humor (Stewart/Colbert) supplies the most trusted news (I watch them too)? I hope MANY folks like you find a way to tell the politicians that enough is enough.

Farmer's Wyfe said...

This is SOOO true and sooo good. There is so much wrapped up in respect and our treatment of others. REALLY good!!! Thank you.

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