Civility is Dying, and Only We Can Save It

Civility is dying, and only we can save it.

There seems to be less and less formal politeness and courtesy when it comes to public behavior and especially public discussion.  If fact, “discussion” itself seems to be at an all-time low, replaced with argument, ranting, protest and personal attack.

I’m fortunate to associate with a great many intelligent, articulate people from all walks of life, female and male, old friends and new, encompassing a wide range of ages, economic status and ethnicity.  If you are reading this, then it’s very likely that you are among those in my life for whom I am grateful.  You support my efforts that are worthy and discourage those that are flawed.  You keep me appropriately grounded when I’m flying high, and lift me up when I’m down.  And while we certainly don’t agree on everything, we do agree to remain honest and respectful with each other, even when we disagree… even when we disagree passionately (which we sometimes do, and thank goodness for that!).

 Media – Mainstream, Social and Anti-Social

The advent of email, texting and social media has enabled me to stay in touch with countless individuals with whom I would have otherwise lost touch.  In addition, the majority of my friends and acquaintances appreciate being objectively informed, and there are selected segments of social media that enable that.  Sadly, I think we are well past the time when we need to take a very serious look at how we communicate with each other.  I appreciate spirited debate, as it was foundational to the creation of our country.  However, it seems that the vast majority of mainstream and social media (Facebook, twitter, etc.) has devolved into a public platform for people who routinely cross way over the line from legitimate, fact- and reason-based reporting and perspective into rhetoric, hyperbole, and ad hominem attack.

How We Treat Each Other Today Foretells Our Tomorrow

American citizens certainly have a First Amendment right to say pretty much whatever they please, but that doesn’t mean we have to invite all speakers into our presence, much less allow them to remain while they insult us and our other invited guests, most of whom usually just turn and leave.  Permitting this behavior unchecked contributes to the continuing decline of civility within our society.  No Boardroom in the country would allow this type of behavior, in fact, no respectful Public Forum should allow this on an ongoing basis.  One of the reasons I’m becoming less inclined to comment on Facebook posts is that I do not wish to be figuratively spat upon (privately or otherwise), much less engage in a public spitting match.  Someone once said: “Our daily behavior with each other is clear indication of our future together.”  The examination of any recent day’s public discourse could suggest that we are in store for a very undesirable future.

Civility benefits from adherence to known facts, and suffers when those facts are spun (regardless of whether they are spun left or right).  I believe mainstream media (for their own reasons) does more than enough spin, sometimes with complete disregard of foundational facts, even in the presence of irrefutable evidence.  The result is often higher ratings, and always higher emotions, helping to drive the ever-increasing divide between Americans.

The level of self-righteous outrage has clearly gone way off the rails.  I’ve never witnessed so many people do so much damage while charging forward absolutely convinced that not only are they “doing the right thing,” but firm in the belief that they, and only they know what the right thing is.  And… anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, they are evil!  It’s no longer “I’m right and you’re wrong,” it’s “I’m right and you’re a despicable worthless piece of human trash.”  Over the past few years I’ve been far more savagely attacked for things that I questioned than for anything I ever actually proclaimed or did.

The Price of Winning

This ever-increasing environment of disrespectful narrative does nothing but raise the collective ire, contributing only to the bad taste in one’s mouth.  I used to look forward to jumping online, but anymore, being deluged with posturing, lies and rage is not at all how I wish to begin, much less spend my day.  A former US Senator recently stated that his promotion of an egregious lie about a political opponent was perfectly fine because it helped contribute to the opponent’s defeat, affirming that victory was more important than honesty or integrity.

Along with honesty and accuracy, civility should be paramount.  Anything less devalues all manner of respect, including self-respect.  As such, we really need to decide if winning in the public discourse at any cost is worth it or not.  Civility is dying, and if we don’t change our behavior, our Civilization will follow.

The REAL Fight

What is all of the fighting really about?

Despite all of the rhetoric, spin and distractions, we are facing a very simple issue: Are American citizens better off with a physical barrier along our border with Mexico?

This is a simple question. Regardless of your political affiliation, or who your favorite elected officials or preferred thought leaders are, the answer should be a simple yes or no.  And, being intelligent citizens, we should be able to fundamentally explain our reasoning and thus defend our answer.

Given many of the actual words from both Republicans and Democrats in the recent past, it is reasonable to conclude that the current fight is not about the wall, it’s not even about illegal immigration.

Lately, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has expressed vehement opposition to the wall. However, that wasn’t always the case.

In 2009, as the Chairman of the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee, Senator Schumer was a Keynote Speaker at the 6th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference, Migration Policy Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

These are direct quotes from his 24 minute speech:

“… American people are fundamentally pro-legal immigration and anti-illegal immigration.”

“Illegal immigration is wrong, and a primary goal of comprehensive immigration reform must be to dramatically curtail future illegal immigration.”

“Operational control of our borders–through significant additional increases in infrastructure, technology, and border personnel–must be achieved within a year of enactment of legislation.”

“All illegal aliens present in the United States on the date of enactment of our bill must quickly register their presence with the United States Government, and submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning a path to citizenship, or face imminent deportation.”

“… illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple. When we use phrases like “undocumented workers,” we convey a message to the American people that their Government is not serious about combating illegal immigration, which the American people overwhelmingly oppose.”

“Above all else, the American people want their Government to be serious about protecting the public, enforcing the rule of law, and creating a rational system of legal immigration that will proactively fit our needs rather than reactively responding to future waves of illegal immigration.”

“People who enter the United States without our permission are illegal aliens, and illegal aliens should not be treated the same as people who entered the United States legally.”

“… any immigration solution must recognize that we must do as much as we can to gain operational control of our borders as soon as possible.“

“Between 2005 and 2009, a vast amount of progress has been made on our borders and ports of entry. This progress includes: … construction of 630 miles of border fence that create a significant barrier to illegal immigration on our southern land border;”

“… we must create a mechanism whereby all illegal aliens present in the United States on the date of enactment of comprehensive immigration reform must quickly register their presence or face immediate deportation.“

Considerably different from what he says now. So again, what’s the fight really about?

Perhaps one of the reasons that we citizens, neighbors, brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers are increasingly and enthusiastically fighting with each other is this: without clarity or consistency, it is highly unlikely we will ever reach compromise, much less cooperation.

Sadly, that seems to be exactly what too many of our elected officials want.