The first step toward getting along may be taking our hands off each other’s throats.
Politically, socially and in other ways, we have come to a point in this culture where we’re ready – nay, eager – to believe the worst in each other at the drop of a hat.
While President Trump has hardly been a model of civility, his opponents are itching to believe he’s a monster. Famed author J.K. Rowling came out and flat said it in a series of tweets recently.
“This monster of narcissism values only himself and his pale reflections. The disabled, minorities, transgender people, the poor, women (unless related to him by ties of blood, and therefore his creations) are treated with contempt, because they do not resemble Trump.”
What prompted it? A widely circulated video in which the president seemed to disregard a 3-year-old wheelchair-bound boy with spina bifida.
Problem is, the video was selectively edited. In another portion of it that was not widely circulated, Mr. Trump had already bent down to dote on the boy.
As the author of the wildly loved Harry Potter series that featured wizards battling all manner of beasts and demons, Ms. Rowling should know a monster when she sees one. What a shame she’s so prepared to see a monster in another human being.
She’s definitely not alone.
Certainly our 24/7 access to the wider world through smart phones, computers and social media sites has enabled us to be incivil at the jerk of a knee. We ought to count to 10 – or perhaps 100 – before firing off an angry missive.
But social media isn’t the disease. It’s the symptom. The social ill is, again, our eagerness to believe the absolute worst in others.
We can tell you with ripe confidence that those who opposed the policies and postures of the nation’s first black president were repeatedly accused of blind, naked racism for having done so. Then, and now, conservative speakers have endured physical violence, threats, heckling and even rioting in misguided, intolerant attempts to silence them.
An Augusta-area mosque was also the recent victim of vicious voicemails that threatened our Muslim friends and neighbors in the foulest, most disturbing terms.
There are various worthy efforts underway nationwide to promote civility, including the National Institute for Civil Discourse – which arose at the University of Arizona after the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and others, including six who died, in Tucson.
While the aftermath of that shooting focused on incivility in political discourse, the shooting instead was the result of a deranged fixation on Giffords by the shooter, a paranoid schizophrenic. Yet, the resulting emphasis on civility, and the creation of NICD, is a good thing.
A much-needed thing as well: The shooting of four people just two months ago at a Republican congressional baseball practice in the Washington, D.C., area appears to have been more politically motivated.
And, of course, the vilification of police by some has been fatal far too often.
What can be done? Plenty.
In this day and age of interconnectivity, it’s easy to get “wired” in a bad way. We need to take a few breaths and calm down. We need to stop demonizing each other. We need to stop believing the absolute worst about each other. We need to consciously practice civility on a daily basis.
Incivility comes easy. The rush to anger or hatred is almost a reflex. It’s the toddler’s way.
In contrast, civility is the adult response to frustration and disagreement. But it takes work. It requires calm reflection not available to the toddler.
This doesn’t mean passivity. We can fight for what we believe in and advocate passionately for our viewpoints. But we need not get angry, get personal – or have, as our default setting, the belief that those who simply disagree with us are bad, evil or monstrous.
Our political leaders should pledge civility. Our cable news broadcast anchors should inquire of their guests – not argue bitterly with them. Our celebrities should set a civil tone. Our protests should seek to promote our causes, not merely denigrate opponents.
Parents should make civility and manners a top priority in the rearing of children. Schools, which have been beset by bullying and insubordination, should recognize the dire peril to society of rampant incivility and should demand decorum – perhaps even instituting a civility curriculum. Houses of worship should preach it – and practice it.
Incivility is killing people – literally. And it’s making too many people see monsters in each other.
We need to get ahold of ourselves – not our neighbor’s throat.