The search for civility
Are you, like me, wondering what's happened to civil discourse in our society? This is not a typical "Over the Fence" subject and I admit to approaching it with some trepidation. On the other hand, when you're skating on thin ice, you might as well tap dance—so here goes.
A close friend of mine and I are on different sides of the political spectrum and are prone to having an occasional conversation about the issues that divide us. My approach has been to try to find things we can agree upon and build from there. Her response, so far, is to dig in her heels and refuse to countenance anything that differs from her own opinion. Not only that, but I sense a certain hostility directed toward me because of my viewpoints and beliefs. My response is to feel unfairly judged, resentful, and a little angry. This is my friend of more than 30 years and I don't want to lose her, but it is clear that ours is a microcosm of the conversation that is going on in the country at large. That conversation is dividing us, one by one.
When people from both the right and the left disparage each other mercilessly and often without forethought, it is hard not to feel that we, as a country, have somehow lost our moral compass. The inability or unwillingness to give credence to another viewpoint from one's own is a pretty hard road to travel. Anger and hurt abound on all sides with seemingly no one stepping into the middle. We now have devolved to name-calling and even threats against one another.
So what to do? Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got, so finding things we can all agree on seems paramount. Maybe, for instance, we can wonder in unison if it is a coincidence that a group of baboons is called a congress? Or we could admit to a mutual nagging nervousness when we consider this comment from Thomas Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
We need to find a common ground before things further deteriorate. When conversing with people of different political persuasions, it is good to remember that "open mouth, insert foot" is not a good option, and that a closed mouth gathers no feet. Barring that, we need to practice being civil. We can either search for that common ground or simply be polite and agree to disagree. But attacking someone's character because of their political beliefs is not the right choice. That's what is happening every day in America and it is eating at the seams of our society. The vast majority of people who live here love their country, but the hatemongers on the political edges do not. They are sowing dissention and driving us apart. Those of us in the middle need to speak out for ourselves and for our country. We must not only do that, but we must make a disciplined effort to persevere. As Babe Ruth said, "Never let the fear of striking out get in your way." Let's keep raising our voices. We can do so by staying informed, voting whenever the opportunity presents itself, practicing peaceful protest, and most of all, by being civil.