You can be civil…

March 31, 2021

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.


The struggle to be you…

February 11, 2017

In a recent post to his blog – Jack’s Winning Words – Jack Freed shared this quote – “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.”  (Rudyard Kipling)

We all struggle to some extent with the need to be an individual while living within the “tribal” space defined by our society. One could look to the TV show Alone to see the consequences of really living outside of the support system that the tribe (society) provides us all. Even in that TV reality series the contestants were allowed to take with them some of the things that are only available to us all because of the societies in which we live. Still, the conclusion that all of the contestants eventually come to is that they’d much rather be back with the tribe.

For most of us the struggle to retain an individual identity within our societal structure does not involve being isolated in some far flung corner of the world. For the most part, our decisions about what we should or will do involve the decisions that we make about obeying or ignoring the rules of that the society has put in place, which we call laws. Most of the time obeying the laws is a no-brainer, since many of them were put into place to defaced-traffic-signprotect us from some common danger or to provide some common good for all. Sometimes obeying a specific law may seem to be a personal inconvenience, given whatever circumstances brought you to the point of having to make a decision about obeying them or ignoring them.  Stop signs, no turn on red signs and don’t walk until you are told you can walk instructions are examples of widely ignored rules (laws) that people make conscious decisions to ignore from time to time.

Religion is another area in which we make conscious decisions about what to accept and what to ignore or at least not honor in our everyday lives. The “tribe”, in the case of religion, is the church or denomination of the church. Each separate denomination has created its own set of rules and interpretations of the beliefs upon which religion is built. Perhaps the church was way ahead of the current administration in Washington in its use of the concept of “alternative facts”. Even the Bible, upon which all of the Christian christian-denominationsdenominations base their beliefs, has been subject to repeated changes and interpretations by various tribes within the Christian religion. There is a common core of beliefs that runs throughout Christianity; but, upon that core various tribal split-offs have imposed their own set of rules and interpretations. There is Yiddish proverb that I saw on Jack’s blog that probably applies to that – “God created a world full of many little worlds.” Maybe that proverb was created to describe the fragmented little tribes that Christianity has evolved into.

I think the little saying that we started with today was referencing the need to maintain some level of individual thinking and decision making to avoid being swept away by society (the tribe) into something that we may not want or with which we may not agree. When we are young children, we tend to “learn” how to fit in and do what is right by watching others and imitating them. We certainly get lots of advice from parents about what is right or wrong and whether how we are acting is good or bad.

At some point in our growing up phase (sometime pre-teen but almost always in the teen Gothyears) almost everyone hits that point where they start to rebel against some things that they are being told to do or about being told how to act. For some that rebellion may manifest itself in their appearance and for some in their choice of friends or behavior when in tribal (societal) settings. For some the rebellion never really takes hold and the mantra of “go along to get along” becomes their way of life. For all of us, the need to continually make personal decisions on the choices that life presents means that we are forever evolving as individuals.

The struggle to find your own identity is always going to be a balancing act between the things that you accept from the rules of the tribe (Society) and the things that seem important enough to you to cause you to go against the rules or mores of the tribe, or at least a part of the tribe. That’s where the Yiddish proverb comes in handy. It turns out that we don’t live “alone”; we live in lots of little worlds or tribes and we may even be able to be members of several of those tribes (worlds). In today’s worlds there is an attempt to define membership in simplistic terms such as “us and them.” Members of each little disagreement2world try to compartmentalize one as for or against something and allow little to no room for a middle ground. The decisions about which worlds to live in are what we struggle with to define ourselves as individuals. Those same decisions contribute greatly to what we call character in people.

Perhaps, as you struggle with defining what being you means, the most helpful thing to keep in mind is that being you and having your own opinions about things is not necessarily a matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of making personal choices for yourself. Others may, and will, make different choices and you need to accept that this is OK, too. If you look for them at all, you will see that, even people with diametrically opposed views from yours on some things, at the same time share many of the choices that you made when you accepted membership in the larger tribe (society) that you both live in. We have a term for accepting the differences that may exist without rancor – civility. If you extend civility to others, you will likely receive it in return; and, you will find that you can still be an individual within the context of the tribe.

Being a member of the tribe (society) need not overwhelm you, but it does provide some useful boundaries and guideline about what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior, if one wishes to remain a member of the tribe and not to be alone. Young people in their explainingrebellious phase often experience hard bumps into those boundaries and learn lessons about life “the hard way.” We all will continue to bump into laws, rules, ordinances, restrictions and other barriers to doing whatever we want to do as we age. If we are civil about those encounters we will likely be able to find a way to be happy as individuals and stay within the tribe.

Have a great journey on the trip to discover who you are. Maybe I’ll see you along the way. Stop in and visit my little world.