When in this country did we come to the crossroads that indicated it was okay to burn someone’s house down if we disagreed with what they said or believed in?
There have always been the yin and the yang, the dark and the light. But why have seemingly large segments of our society veered away from engaging in civil discourse, which seemed, not that very long ago, a plausible path for creating harmony or, at the very least, a grudging respect for individuals or groups with opposing views? Indeed, the doctrine of discourse was at one point in our country’s history the communal duty of pastors, people and politicians.
You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.
Where did civility break down? More importantly, can we dial back paralyzing hostility and ratchet up respectful debate? And be a tad nicer to one another?
Emergence of Social Media
Reflex is to look at the emergence of social media and its many platforms. Rude, offensive individuals, always there, found their bunkers and, for the most part, their shield — anonymity. Stirring the pot with philosophies of animosity, prejudice and resentment became the norm mainly because there were no consequences. Hurtful words, often but not always cloaked in namelessness and facelessness, evolved from “I don’t think so and here are my reasons” to “I don’t think so and here is why you’re wrong” to simply open, loathing contempt and an attacking mindset. That catalyst occurred, from the standpoints of society and time, incredibly and sadly fast.
Certainly, deep-seated, multi-generational beliefs, politics and values stoke mindsets and behaviors. Always have and always will. These drivers aren’t going to change, though hopefully they will evolve. You are what you bring to the table. Lifetimes shape. Economic and environmental factors, associations, bridges built and torn down, and accepted standards of behavior of family, workplace and social groups shape us. Mine is not to determine what’s right or less right — though we should all be on the same page with what is wrong — only to accept that is a makeup different than mine.
Distrust is another fuel that added to this combustible equation. The behavior of slick politicians — dodging, obfuscating, exaggerating and creating ambiguity even where there is no ambiguity — began to be on display in ever-increasing panoramas and news cycles. Not all politicians are oleaginous, but those are the legislators who most aggressively seek the media spotlight and corporate friends (read: dollars and favors) and who too often succeed in getting elected and then focus chiefly on staying in office.
Conflict and downright meanness have too often become the name of the game, paralyzing and polarizing instead of igniting conversation designed to find a middle ground, inspired solutions and alternative paths that we might take together. The result is that cheap shots, personal vilification, and open contempt are the tools used to get you angry enough to look over there instead of what’s plainly over here. It’s a simple flimflam, confidence game with an ever-growing mean streak of incivility. Inconceivably, flipside isn’t in the vocabulary of naysayers.
The other unfortunate outcome? Fewer folks engage. Fewer ideas surface. Fewer shared conversations and opportunities to have robust debates with an eye toward accepting differences and varying points of view. Fewer attempts to reach across the aisle.
So, what to do to build a closer bond of brotherhood and sisterhood and a purer and nobler world? To celebrate and enkindle the uniqueness each of us has?
Bridges are built by modeling traits such as tolerance, equity and inclusion for all. Some won’t step up for that. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t, at every opportunity, promote tolerance by being tolerant of other ideas, promote equity by giving equal weight to the opinions of others, and teach inclusion by celebrating our differences … in viewpoints, preferences, thoughts and even dreams. In doing those simple things, we mustn’t forget the most important ingredient — the commonalities we share.
We change hearts and minds slowly through patience, grace, kindness and a willingness to teach and model the behaviors we are looking for in others. We can’t teach what we don’t do. Do we want to be heard or do we want to make a difference? Being heard is easy. Making a difference is the more challenging work. That path requires time, tolerance and teaching (through modeling) the practices we want to see in the world.
Is it too simplistic to state that the absolute best manner to cast aside mean-spirited actions is to apply a heavy dose of LOVE, the greatest of all things? Perhaps, but there is zero argument that there is no place for actions that cause unnecessary damage to hearts and relationships. Most of us know that. Use the power of that force of nature.
Move forward with the best of yourself and your intentions, realizing that trolls will troll but that you don’t have to take the bait. Keep in mind, too, that our society is only as strong as our weakest link. Lead with kindness and grace. One of the world’s few certainties is that you will never regret being kind. Think about that statement. In a world where you can do anything, be kind. By strengthening ourselves and others, we stand to strengthen our entire world.
At some point, every one of us learns that two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different. The equation for different frames of reference is pretty logical — one’s perspective is shaped by experience, personality and maturity. Each of those three characteristics shares one action — evolving. Sprinkle in civility and character, and people can accomplish so much together, not in spite of our differences but because of them.