Sunday, June 30, 2013

Civility Matters

Civility is based on recognizing the difference between the words different and diversity. Civility does not stand in the way of truth and moral development, but rather is a precondition  for them. Civility is important because it allows disagreement to take place without violence and regularizes conflict disagreement to take place without violence. It regularizes conflict so that it can be productive. -- John A. Hall, The Importance of Being Civil: The Struggle for Political Decency

When I was growing up, my parents taught us not to discuss politics or religion with strangers or at social functions -- the gist of their advice being the two topics were 'hot' and likely to cause unnecessary contention.

As an adult, I don't necessarily find either subjects off limits, along with other things like race relations or public policies, but other than discussions with friends and family* I rarely do bring them up, though, because I don't care for the mean-spiritness and pettiness that is increasingly the norm when someone disagrees.

I am not a regular user of the social media. While I do use FB, I seldom am active, and rarely update my profile, post comments, or share photos. But I like to read how friends are doing and learn about upcoming events. It's handy. But I also find it dismaying to learn how nasty some people can get, disparaging the President or when they have a political bone to pick. There can be lots of carping and baiting.

Tragedies aren't hours old before someone places blame for a nutters shooting or bombing on the President or the political party they don't belong to, or aliens, or ((insert here)). If someone ventures a different opinion I have seen them mocked, or the recipient of nasty comments.

Clean debate that enables opposing partners to voice different opinions are increasingly rare, and  arguments quickly go south, devolving into rants and seemingly petty and personal remarks. I still can't forget an email a friend sent during the Presidential election...Obama's face morphed into that of a lowland gorilla. She wrote that she "wasn't a racist, she just thought the images were interesting." Say What?? And Jane Fonda will forever be reviled and branded as a traitor for touring Vietnam during the war and for that stupid pose...despite the fact she has apologized for "being used" and for being a "apolitical naive 20-something." It seems people will forever drum up hate towards her and keep forwarding email that keeps her mistake spewing to the forefront of everyone's consciousness. It will stain her forever.

I don't mean we should all join hands and sing Kumbaya, or shut up and stifle ourselves when confronting an opposing POV. Just keep it civil, people. I want reasoned arguments conducted in a civil manner. Parroting lines heard from some TV pundit who you believe has no real weight when you can't substantiate your own opinions, supported by fact. That doesn't hold water. Showing respect and allowing the person to articulate their dissenting opinion without interruption is only fair. Raising your voice and repeating the same things over and over again is not. It's highly annoying as well.

Staying respectful and positive, and curious about why they feel the way they do is a mature reaction more likely to gain respect. It's an apt way to make your point than baiting someone and using disdainful ridicule. You seldom change someone's mind or they yours, but learning why they feel the way they do is the closest you'll come to making headway.

*There's one in every family. (Hopefully just one, anyway). I can't have a dissenting discussion with the person in our family because they just don't argue fairly. They bait, refuse to listen, talk over you, don't let you speak without interruption, and spout facts they glean from articles that support their view while refusing to read material holding dissenting opinion. It's ridiculous.


e said...

You are right, but that unfortunately doesn't stop the situation...I have family members whose emails are blocked because invariably once oped, they contain political material. I've asked people when they send e-mails to refrain from jokes, politics or religion...that has significantly cut down on hearing from them which is probably just as well, in my view.

How are you and the mustangs doing these days?

Ms. A said...

Politics and religion are two touchy topics with certain members of my family and I try like heck to avoid them. Other than with family, I just don't discuss some topics at all.

I Wonder Wye said...

e and a -- such is the sad state of affairs in our lives -- interesting both of you also state the are family members...

Peruby said...

And why is it the un-civilized family members produce the most children? What does the future hold?

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Excellent post!
I have as strong of opinions as my family only mine are a 180 from theirs. So I just smile and walk away when the discussion becomes something that makes my hair stand on end. Last time it was after a big dinner and I looked at my husband as he patted my leg under the table as if to say, "oh no!" I suggested we take a walk to walk off this great food. We brought out dishes to the sink and before we knew it a few others joined us. We who walked came back and they had completed their rewriting of history and the evening was fine.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Civility does seem to be is short supply in most instances.

ReformingGeek said...

I am often asking myself what is wrong with these people that can't have a healthy discussion. I spend a lot of time on Facebook but sometimes it is extremely tiring because of all the bickering and hate, if you will.

We have issues within our family, too.

I will say, that, that my sister-in-law is very good at debating an issue. She has a lot of information to back her opinions and uses it without emotion.

Chris said...

Wonderfully civil post, as usual. I am sad and troubled by how rare it is to find someone with whom I can conduct a spirited, reasonable debate on one of these issues. The irony is that the civil discussions have historically been much more effective at shifting my viewpoint than the slur-filled rants we have all come to know and love.

Mitchell is Moving said...

Growing up in NYC, nothing was off limits for discussion among family and friends. Lots of vear unpleasant conversations that always turned into arguments.

Regarding that "*," sadly there are so many in my extended family that I now simply hope to never see them again.

I love being able to share with "non-believers" why I feel the way I do about social and political issues and I appreciate when people can share their opposing feelings with me... even when their wrong...