state of civility

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #1 in our annual summer series; the opinions expressed may or may not be held by me, but I value the writer’s expression and their commitment to respect. Enjoy!!]

 

A Respectful Dialogue of Current Events… a guiding principle of the Intramuralist is to express one’s opinion while respecting those who hold an alternative perspective. Such is the essence of civil discourse. If the mission of this website is to lead by example so that others will debate the issues of the day in a civil manner, is anybody following that example?

Not so much, I’m afraid. Take a look at these events over just the last 12 months since the last Guest Writer Series:

  • An employee was fired from his job for a memo he wrote challenging the effectiveness of his company’s diversity programs.
  • A white separatists rally in Charlottesville, VA turned deadly when a man intentionally drove his car into a crowd of protesters.
  • Football fields turned into political battlegrounds pitting players against fans over protests during the National Anthem.
  • A tenured law school professor was removed from teaching mandatory first-year courses after challenging racial preferences in college admissions.
  • A left-leaning magazine hired a writer away from a right-leaning magazine and then fired him after one column due to backlash from its readership.
  • Protesters hounded a cabinet member at a private dinner and another restaurant refused to serve the White House press secretary.
  • A congresswoman advocated for further harassment of administration officials.
  • The congresswoman herself was harassed in response.
  • A comedienne used vulgar profanity on her TV show to insult the president’s daughter. (She apologized, but only to women.)
  • An opinion website was hounded into deleting a column defending an actress cast to play a transgender role, leading to the columnist’s resignation.
  • Trump supporters organized a boycott of a retailer for selling “Impeach 45” clothing on its website even though it was placed online by a third party.

I could go on. It seems we can’t even get to “live and let live.” Not only do we feel the need to tell those with the opposing viewpoint how wrong they are, many of us want to hurt (either physically or financially) those on the other side. They need to pay a price for disagreeing with us. It should go without saying that is not a healthy attitude to have.

So what to do about it? A few humble suggestions:

  1. Recognize that we are all part of the problem – Your incivility may not be as bad as others’, but are you as civil as you could be? If not, you are escalating the rhetoric which can lead to harmful outcomes.
  2. Acknowledge that everyone has biases (even you) – We are all inclined to focus on (or ignore) certain data points based on our perspective. As such, we don’t always see the world as it really is.
  3. Admit that you are not always right – Even if you think you are right 99% of the time, maybe this time is part of the 1%. Allow for that possibility, and it will be easier to retract your words if you have to.
  4. Disconnect from social media – Personally, I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts a couple years ago. I find myself to be a much happier person. Even if you don’t want to totally disengage from those platforms, try going without it for a few days and experience how little you miss it.
  5. Don’t type anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face – Why is it that we are much crueler when we type things than when we’re speaking in person? Imagine that the person you’re communicating with is in the room with you when you type.
  6. Read some opinion you disagree with – Find some civil writers from the opposite side of the political spectrum and try to understand the issues of the day from their point of view. It may not change your mind, but it should change the way you interact with those you disagree with.
  7. Be honest with your self-assessment – There are some people who get an emotional high from arguing. There can be an addiction to adrenaline that comes from debating controversial issues just like any drug. If you think that might be you, seek professional help to preserve your personal relationships.
  8. Consider that Trump is a symptom, not the problem – I know, I know… some of you really, really hate Donald Trump. I’m not a big fan myself, but here’s the thing. He could not have risen to power were it not for the toxic political environment that existed before he was elected. He knows how to take advantage of uncivil discourse, but it did not start with him, and it will not go away after his presidency unless we do something about it.

Bottom line… before you speak, THINK! Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?

Respectfully…

PJM

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