In the wake of the horrific shootings in Tucson on January 8, the US media, as only they can do, have really wound me up by turning this tragic event into somewhat of a Medusa. They have dutifully dissected almost every angle imaginable, as is their manner of reporting. I have listened to arguments and opinions by journalists, politicians and entertainers from all sides. They are bandying around what appears to be a new concept to them – civility. However, in my opinion, they have missed the most important point of their discussion on civility in politics. I’m not sure if they just think civility sounds like a good thing to be talking about; if they actually think they are an authority on the subject; or if they are diving into deep and murky waters where monsters live.
In a nut shell however, civility must begin at home. Only from there it can spread to every aspect of our lives. Without civility at home, there is no chance that we will carry it through the day into all the arenas of our busy lives. Treating all people with respect and compassion is what civility is all about. Our use of civil behavior is also a crystal clear mirror into our own selves and our souls. We are oftentimes not even civil with ourselves. Protecting our borders, our cultures, and our values to the exclusion of all others is poisoning the very fabric of the society in which we live. This dynamic is not solely an American phenomenon, but appears throughout much of the world.
I listened to one broadcaster on NPR explain that one of our ‘esteemed’ elected officials declared that there is no place in politics for civility. To my way of thinking, politics is the one place where civility is most needed. The politics I grew up with afforded a platform where healthy debates could take place. Where have all the statesmen gone? The days of choosing between two or more people of integrity in an election have disappeared. Why is it that people with differing opinions cannot have a debate without treating each other as enemies? Is it not possible to disagree about a matter without being disagreeable? We still refer to our elected officials as our political leaders. They are afforded all kinds of privilege. Yet they display such vulgar behavior with their colleagues that one must wonder whether they are even capable of conducting the nation’s business. These are the people whom we still hold in high esteem. I wonder why. What’s more puzzling is that because we hold these so called leaders in high regard, we deem their behavior as acceptable. Not only is this flawed on many levels, it validates and encourages incivility, and we unwittingly pass these values onto our children, tomorrow’s stewards of our fragile planet.
There is a real, almost palpable, need for control over our lives, or at least some part thereof. What we have traditionally held important and worth protecting are our belief systems – political and religious. We cling to these more tightly than ever today. In part I believe it is because we live in such a fast paced world that there is little we can hold onto long enough to achieve that sense of control which we so desperately need. And of our political views, why must we protect them so vigorously? What is it about these beliefs that causes us to raise our voices to decibels unknown just to make our point heard and hopefully agreed with? Could it be that we don’t really have the strength of conviction we need to actually believe in our hearts what we think we believe in our heads?
Politicians from both sides of the aisle are equally guilty of the dissolution of civility. In addition, their inappropriate use of language is disparaging. It puts a whole new meaning on ‘politically incorrect’. I am unclear as to their true intentions, as they likely are as well, but the messages they proffer carry strong subliminal reminders implying that anyone who disagrees with them is the enemy.
I am not naive enough to realize that political posturing is all a part of the process of free government. But what has happened to reason? Do the politicians truly believe that their constituents don’t have the capacity to make informed decisions after hearing responsible arguments from all sides? Perhaps, as with many things in life, they are simply mirroring their own inabilities and feelings of inadequacy. The time has come for all of our elected officials, not just a few of them, to start acting like leaders. With some practice, who knows, they may even become leaders.
Incivility is bullying, plain and simple. Leading by example will show our youth how to behave with respect for others, but only if we make the choice to do just that.