“The Buck Stops Here” (President Harry S. Truman) Truman had a sign that had that little saying on his desk in the White House and he used that phrase in speeches. There is an interesting story about the sign on Truman’s office and the origin of that phrase at the Truman Library web site. Truman, and many who have followed since, used that phrase to indicate that rather than “pass the buck” the buck would stop with them and they would make a decision. It is useful for making personal decisions in many facets of life, such as dealing with bullying or dealing with prejudice or continuing to look the other way and allow any number of injustices to continue. It is all too easy to pass the buck, rather than have the buck stop here- with you.
I wrote a post here yesterday about the lack of respect (and from that a lack of civility) in our modern political system and our society in general. A reader commented on that post, “Norm, you are so very right. Where has it gone and when can we get it back?” That sparked the thought that it really isn’t just about the buck stopping here, with me (or you); but, also the fact that the different behavior that is needed to combat that lack of respect and civility must start with me, too. It starts with me showing respect for the opinions of others, even if I don’t agree with their option or point of view on things. There are ways to respectfully disagree without resorting to screaming or name calling. Rather than waste my time and yours trying to denigrate you and your position, I need to focus upon doing a better job trying to understand your position and searching for some common ground upon which we might be able to find compromise.
So the answer to that question from my reader about how to recover the lost respect and civility in life is that we get it back when we start giving it back. We resist the reflex to jab back at the person taunting us or belittling our position or beliefs. We turn the other cheek. (Where have we heard that before?) Maybe, instead of just blurting back, “You’re wrong”, we could say instead, “I see that we have different opinions on this; is there anything about it that we can agree upon?” There may not initially be any apparent common ground; but, just changing the situation from a confrontation into a conversation may defuse what otherwise might escalate into something that you both regret later. We can start by respecting that we have differences and being civil about it. See how that works..
I also wrote recently about dealing with people who are looking at life through completely different lens that we can even imagine. (See – Trying to understand others without a frame of reference…) While the example used in that post and the follow-on post about Depression are examples of frames of personal reference (lens if you will) that are a little further out of the norm, they are examples of how things can be seen and opinions formed based upon different perspectives on life. The differences in the frames of reference discussed in those posts may have been extreme; however, something similar seems to have happened in our everyday lives, especially in the aspects that deal with politics.
The lens that we “see” things through in order to formulate those political opinions are often not internal, but those that are held up for us to look through by the politicians of our times. Sometimes they are charismatic charmers who can convince us to walk through fire with them in order to do the “right thing”. Sometimes they tap into our darker side and encourage us to let out the anger and frustration that we may have bottled up. We have the choice of forming our own opinions by looking through the lenses that are held up by others or by choosing our own lens and view of things. If we really need an external lens to look through, we might do better by looking through the lens of the Bible and the “truths” that we will find there, rather than the “truths” that we see in a political ad or a tweet.
So, where does it start? How do we get back from the lack of civility and respect that we find ourselves in today? The simple truth is that it starts with me. I postulate that if I, and every other “I” out there, decided to be more respectful of differences and more civil in my interactions with others; eventually there would be enough “I’s” being respectful; and civil to others that it would turn us into “we” and then everything would be better. “We” would be living in a more respectful and civil world. I like that; and it starts with me.
How about you? Would you like to make your “I” a part of “We”? It starts with you, too.