This piece first appeared in the York Daily Record on Feb. 19, 2016
Has anyone truly learned anything from the candidates at the Republican debates? I have learned they do not respect one another.
They take personal shots at one another and criticize their opponents’ families. They all purport to have solutions, but I honestly have no clue what these solutions are. There seems to be yelling and interrupting and not much else. They are not answering questions; they are attacking one another, posturing and using rude language for shock value.
Recently, I have seen unbelievable disrespect toward Justice Scalia. The man just died. His family is in mourning. No matter what you thought of the man as a person or justice, it really is rude to celebrate his death on social media. His family does not deserve to have your scorn heaped upon them. I wonder what some people’s mothers would think if they saw their adult children’s social media posts.
The debates and social media are only symptoms of a bigger problem in American society. We have no civility. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines civility as polite, reasonable and respectful behavior. When was the last time you witnessed polite, reasonable and respectful behavior from any level of government officials? We no longer discuss issues or have conversations; we have confrontations.
A wise man once told me, “It does not cost anything to be polite.” It was a great principle I have carried through my life. I make sure to thank people for holding doors, bagging groceries. I address men, no matter what age, as sir and women as ma’am. It truly does not cost me anything and hopefully gains me the goodwill of the people I am civil toward. I raised my children with the same principle. Even now, in their early 20s, people remark on their politeness. Hopefully, they will raise their children with that same mantra.
Being polite does matter. It does create a more welcoming atmosphere for dialogue. And dialogue is what we should be having. No, we do not all agree with one another on everything, especially politics and religion. We should not have to. The United States is a pluralistic society – or it is meant to be. We have the freedom to express our opinions. But we do not have to express them in “my way or the highway terms.” There should be room for disagreeing. It is not a barrier to conversation; it is a way to stimulate conversation. Reasonable conversation may not change your mind, but it may give you a better understanding of why the other person does not see the issue the same way you do.
We need to become a civil society. The best way to achieve this in the national sphere is to develop statesmen instead of politicians. The definition of a statesman is one who is versed in the principles or art of government – especially actively engaged in conducting the business of a government or in shaping its policies. Key words there are actively engaged in conducting, in other words, working not obstructing. We can insist that they answer questions and work on solving problems, not creating them. As citizens, we can communicate through phone calls, email or social media that their behavior is not acceptable and will cost them our vote if not rectified.
We can also cultivate civility in our own lives. We can encourage people to discuss, not incite. We can respect others’ opinions without having to agree with them. We can tell people our opinions, but we have to be willing to listen to theirs in return. You do not have to agree, but you must respect their right to have their own opinions.
We all see the world through different eyes, literally. No two people see exactly the same thing. Our perceptions are based on our experiences and education (informal and formal). Our life events shape how we react to people and events. It is impossible for us all to have the same opinions because we are individuals, not a Borg collective.
We need to embrace our individuality.
We need to celebrate it.
We need to use it in discussing the hard issues of the day.
Problems will never be solved while we treat words like collaboration and cooperation with disdain.