Pastor Freed lamented the use of ad hominem attacks as the stock in trade in politics recently in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, today and used this quote – “When you cannot answer your opponent’s logic, you can still call him vile names.” (Elbert Hubbard)
I have commented in prior posts about the lack of civility that has crept into our way of life in America. Politics and politicians have certainly contributed greatly to that transition and in the process have denigrated their position in our view and embarrassed themselves (if there is any shred of decency or embarrassment left for them to use).
A major contributor to the loss of civility in our society, at least in my mind, are the robo-callers who inundate us with annoying calls pitching things we don’t need and didn’t ask for. Since they are robots, they can’t hear our polite answer that we are not interested, so we just get angry and either shout at the robot or just angrily hang up. Unfortunately, that same reaction pops into our head when we receive what could have been a polite call from some worthy organization asking for our help. I wouldn’t want to be a phone solicitor these days, even for a worthy cause.
But, back to the original thought. We certainly have seen the use of ad hominem attacks in our state as the Republican legislators have resorted to name calling (and witch is probably the least offensive one that they use) in their battle with the governor over her COVID restrictions. Since they have no logical way to refute the science driving her decisions, they use personal attacks instead. They claim to be fighting for the freedom of people to make their own decisions on things like masks and vaccinations. While they don’t officially have a name for this movement, I’d suggest that they use “The right to die” as their tagline, because that is what the result will be if they are successful. It might be easier to grant them that right if it weren’t for the fact that those same people could infect hundreds of innocent people in their careless disregard for themselves and others.
We have also seen the rise of extremist groups that have been engaged in plotting actions that go well beyond name calling as remedies to what they see as government intervention in their lives. Some of them took buses to the nation’s capital for the inauguration of our new president and participated in the insurrection that ensued. They could not answer or accept the will of the voters and resorted to much more than ad hominem name calling.
Those are a lot of questions, especially in the midst of what might be a heated exchange, but those also form the bedrock of civility. The key it stopping to think, before responding. I have noticed over time that the few politicians for whom I had respect were those who always stopped to consider things before they responded to questions or challenges. Usually they paused long enough that you noticed it and then they responded with well thought out answers and careful use of the language. Former President Barrack Obama is masterful at that and there have been politicians from both parties who displayed that kind of carefully thought out civility (although far fewer of late).
All of these things point to a society that has been conditioned over time to be much less civil to each other and towards the institutions of government. Even though the current administration has called for a cooling off and a reduction in the level of the rhetoric, just saying that we are all in this together is not enough. We may be in the same boat, but we are on opposite sides of that boat. Rather than trying to get those on the opposite end to rush to our side of the boat (which isn’t likely to happen, but which would probably capsize the boat if it did), it is important to understand the opposite views well enough to be able to create a position in the middle of the boat for all to seek. That middle ground of compromise has been lost in Washington and in too many other places in America.
Where can we start in an effort to restore civility to American culture? Like all things, the changes that are required start within each individual. It is incumbent upon each of us to stop giving in to the knee-jerk reactions that we have been conditioned to respond with in situations and instead stop and think for ourselves.
Ask yourself, before you blurt out a response, why something that someone just said to you is causing such a reaction. You must first control yourself long enough to think about the situation. Is there some basis in fact for that reaction or have you just reached for some canned response that has been planted in your mind, perhaps an ad hominem attack against the speaker? What is the logic of this disagreement and not the emotions of it? How can you explain your position on the mater without attacking the person with whom you are disagreeing? Is there a compromise position somewhere between your current position and that of the other person? Why can you not agree with that person to go to the more neutral place? What can you do to keep this a civil exchange of competing ideas or views?
So, resolve as you start each day to stop and think before you react to anyone. The Biblical admonishment to do unto others as we would have them do unto us is a good starting point. If you wouldn’t want to be called a name, why label others with a name of your choice. Let’s get civil, again. It starts with each of us.