“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos…”
Okay, so quoting from W. H. Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues” is a bit dramatic! But that’s the way I am feeling lately. I just want to scream, “SHUT UP! JUST SHUT THE HELL UP! I don’t want to watch, read, or listen to the news. I don’t want to hear a talk show on the television or radio. I don’t want to read a newspaper. I am limiting what web sites I visit and curtailing how often I do. I’ve blocked a lot of commentary on social media. I know what you’re thinking. And it has nothing to do with anyone’s political beliefs.
What has me stressed and depressed is the total lack of civility in all aspects of life anymore. I am reminded of the opening chapter of The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway begins his narration by talking about having returned from the east after a summer living among people that he later describes as “very careless and confused” who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together…” But in the very first chapter he explains that, while he tends to reserve judgement on people, he has passed his verdict on the world. He says, “When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” Well that’s the point I have hit. After getting everyone to shut up, I then want them to stand at a “sort of moral attention.”
We have reached a place in our society where we feel that we have to label everyone, get offended over everything, and make outlandish, vile, violent and hate-filled statements about everyone and everything that is different from us. Rivaling political parties label the other party as “flaming liberals,” “white supremacist right wingers,” “snowflakes,” “heartless bigots.” And they no longer talk about what THEY believe in. Oh no, they talk about what is wrong with the other side. And most of the time they are not talking about issues and policy. They are name-calling based on a competitor’s weight, physical attractiveness, or even penis size! But to blame this on politicians is to miss the point. If the American public abhorred this kind of rhetoric and there was a unified outcry, it would stop.
The reason there is no outcry? Because “your” side (whichever side that happens to be) is the one doing it. “Our” side is just stating truths… “our” side is just retuning the nastiness that was started by the other side. We defend the crassness. Not only that, we join in with it.
You can see the hypocrisy in every single thing that gets people outraged. On the one side you have, “How dare Trump refer to women the way he does!” but then the same people will attack Ivanka using misogynistic epithets. If you espouse treating women with the dignity and respect they deserve, then both are wrong. Period. One side wants people investigated for things that may have put our national security at risk. The other side yells that it’s a partisan witch hunt. They yell, “you know who should be investigated for the same thing? Your guy who has done the same kind of things, and he should go to jail.” But, of course, that isn’t partisan at all.
The hosts of The View say many things which I find repugnant. So I don’t watch it. I expressed my views to the network and changed the channel. What Roseanne Barr said recently was against my values, but I’ve disliked her comments or behavior in the past. I don’t watch her. There is no need for me to go on Facebook and denegrate any of the women involved, to degrade them, call them names, or to wish them ill. If I do, I’ve become what I object to and am guilty of the same offense as they are.
Today a Christian singer posted a meme online. It was something that shouldn’t have created any controversy. I’ve shared the meme here. A positive message. Nothing negative in it. Nothing particularly religious about it. Just a word of encouragement. And people jumped on board with negative comments. Why? I mean, if you didn’t like it or didn’t need that word of encouragement right then, keep scrolling. But no, people have to spew hatred and rudeness. They have to tear down and criticize. Some of the comments took an accusatory tone with Toby Mac but more often with each other. They proceeded to judge people and their intent without even knowing them!
The rudeness and incivility in this country is out of hand at the same time that people are offended by every little thing they disagree with! We have allowed a discourse to permeate our society that cheapens and befouls us all! We see it from the people who are supposed to be our leaders. We see it from the sports and arts heroes our society worships. We see it from parents on the sidelines at a little league game. We see it in road rage. In the line at the store. In the way parents speak to their children. In the way neighbors treat each other. Teachers see it from parents and from the children those parents are raising to have no respect. I have to say that the second most discouraging place I see it is in how Christians treat the world outside the church building, and the first is in how they treat each other.
Jesus said that the rules for living can be boiled down to two things: love God and love each other. That’s it. Look at what 1 Peter 4:8-11 says. “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus…” (The Message) I could fill pages with passages on the importance of loving one another.
So how do we practice just a little civility?
Turn off those who are rude and mean spirited. Change the channel. Don’t follow them on social media. Stop listening or reading their ideas. Walk away. If it isn’t acceptable, it will become taboo.
Don’t feel that you have to comment on everything you see on social media, especially if all you are going to do is name-call, nitpick, or offer up sweeping generalizations about the other side. I got way too involved in voicing my opinion online and have had some very hateful things said to me or about me. I don’t believe I ever reduced myself to the kind of incivility I am talking about. I certainly hope I didn’t. I hope I kept my discussion to the topic at hand without demeaning those who disagreed. It’s sad but people can’t read or hear an idea without others twisting and distorting it and then getting all up in arms and offended by some very minor things. So I have stopped commenting on most things that are more controversial than how beautiful and brilliant your child is, a funny joke that hurts no one, an inspirational quote, or the loss of a loved one or pet. It is hard because there are many things I would like to discuss. There are important ideas I would like to express. It’s a shame that I don’t feel that I can say, “I disagree because…” without being personally attacked. But that is where we are right now.
Have a discussion in which you don’t discuss people but only ideas. Share things that reflect some issue you believe to be important, but try to be very careful about the tone of those posts. It is good to have public discourse provided it is polite and respectful of the people listening to or reading it.
If you can’t support what you believe without resorting to incivility, you must not have very good arguments to support what you believe. I had a college professor who gave us advice on argument. Dr. Foote told us that, if we could get our opponent to swear, we’d won the fight. I’d add to that. If they are reduced to disparaging comments, personal attacks, lies, shouting over you, and judgmental statements that include the words “all” or “never,” you’ve won.
Don’t get so involved in one issue that you become blind to anything else. “I don’t care if he is a mass murderer, at least he’s against…” Don’t get so rigid in your thinking that you will condemn and vilify anyone who disagrees with you. Before you open your mouth, put pen to paper, comment on a post, or criticize someone else, think of the Golden Rule. No matter what religion you practice, it is within your doctrine. And if you follow no religion, it is just making kindness a priority.
I think it is time to add some reading on the subject to my summer TBR pile. These look like a good place to start. Anyone else have ideas? I have more time for reading given the things I’m making a point to avoid!