Civility Lost

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style’. Dr. Maya Angelo

Have you noticed our language seems to be getting uglier? Is this just me, am just getting more sensitive in my advanced age. It seems within all the mediums of communications we regularly use, our social interactions, especially where we enjoy anonymity our language and the way in which we speak to one another has a greater level of toxicity than ever before.

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Wizards, a lesson in toxic behavior

The greater  the anonymity the more toxic the language, right from the start. Where once we had at least the veneer of civility, now we are all in with the ugly; cannonballing into the pond, name-calling and nastiness, no regard for the human on the other side of the screen. It is damned near a contest to determine who can be the most offensive within a single exchange, who can pull the bully mantle across their shoulders and strut their obnoxious faster.

I have to ask, what got us to this point? How did we fall so far in our ability to communicate? Did we simply decided to shed our entire veneer of civility and pick up where we left off in grade school? Many of us shake our heads in dismay at the bullying in public schools across the nation; we are concerned our children are damaged by the name-calling and violence in the halls and playgrounds. We should be concerned, but let me ask you; just where in the hell do you think they learn this crappy behavior? Our children don’t pull this out of the air; they do not learn it from television, video games or on the radio! No, they learn it from you and I, they watch us acting like ill-mannered five-year-olds and think, what is good for my father / mother is good enough for me.

Off they go, to pull the hair, trip the nerd or otherwise make life miserable for someone weaker or different from them.

Let us take a quick look at some of the more polite terms we call each other in some of the political discussions I have been in recently, shall we?

  • Rightard
  • Righthug
  • Teatard or Teatarded
  • Repulicant
  • Racist
  • Libtard
  • Dumocrat
  • Environ-mentalist
  • Libturd
  • Libtroll
  • Femnazi
  • Baby killer
  • Race Baiter

Those are just a few after a quick glance through my own page. Nice right?

Don’t misunderstand, I am passionate about the things I believe in and even enjoy a good debate. I find many of the positions of the other side abhorrent, even morally reprehensible. I find many of the people who support them to be equally offensive, their words are a sometime deafening clamor to me.  Despite my personal feelings though, I find the name calling even more offensive than the positional differences. I would rather have a civil debate, one based on facts and even our personal historical context than simply this constant nastiness.

As an example, this is a part of a conversation I had some time back. The context of the conversation was whether the portrayal of the current president (Obama) as a Chimpanzee is the same as the portrayal of the previous president (Bush) as a Chimpanzee. My position was it is not the same because of the historical context of the portrayals. I have had this conversation previously with the person who started the conversation (my brother), on another thread. In this thread, another person jumped in, for context I have frequently bowed out of conversations with him because of the toxicity of his style. He is my nephew though I have never met him, he is in his twenties; both he and my brother are professed Conservatives with a very real hatred of the current President and all things “Liberal”. Despite my brother and my positional differences, we can usually carry on a civil discussion without name-calling. My nephew is not my brother’s son. These are my biological family members who I was not raised with, thus the reason I do not know all of them.

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When I tell my nephew to get historical context I do not simply mean about me but also to learn the history of this nation. He is not educated. He is also, as noted, mean spirited and nasty in his communications. Feel free to tell me I was ugly as well, I may have been.

I find myself more often these days, simply bowing out. I no longer have the emotional wherewithal to support these conversations, to defend positions when I am attacked on a personal level. There was a time when I could see past the personal attacks, rhetoric and focus, now I simply say thank you and good-bye.

What is wrong with us?

I ask this of all of us, no matter what side of the fence we sit on what is wrong with us. What part of our compassion, empathy and civility did we drop off at the local Waste Station in the past ten years? I know there have always been issues that fired up our passions, now though it seems just the mention of what side of the very deep chasm you reside on is enough to get those guns roaring.  Nothing it seems can tap down this roar; nothing can extinguish the fires burning across this land setting families against each other in all out battles as if they didn’t share blood, friends in battles of witticism which in truth are nothing more than school yard taunts.

I tell you, I weep for us all. I weep for the lost art of communication, civility and even common courtesy. I weep for us all.

Uncivil Discourse

The other day I was called a “Godless Liberal” during a political debate; I pondered this before I responded. I understood my opponent was rather angry, furious if truth were told. If we had been speaking face-to-face, I suspect the ‘Godless Liberal’ would have been accompanied with finger pointing and looked something like this:

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GODLESS LIBERAL !

That said and his point made, he viewed me as ‘outside’ and thus not worthy of anything approaching civil discourse.

This entire exchange got me thinking about the state of our nation, not from a political standpoint, not from what we see in media but, from how we speak to one another. It got me thinking, outside of what boundary was I that this complete faceless stranger felt comfortable denigrating me in the most sexist terms all the while holding himself up as Christian, intellectually and morally superior?

Before I go on, by the way my response was “Yes, but you will never understand the nuance.”

Morals, Ethics, Principles, Values, Scruples, Integrity

Do these words have real meanings anymore? Can we say with certainty all societies have something akin to moral structures all members willingly agree with and abide by? When my little friend called me a Godless Liberal, what did he really mean? Did he understand what he meant or was he just parroting others mindlessly, just to have something to say because he was unable to debate the issue.

The first half of this year has been one of change for me; some of this change has been intentional and thus far challenging. Without going into detail, I have changed my mode of employment, at least for now. I have of course begun to expose deeply buried secrets. Finally, it is a Presidential election year; I admit it I love this season. I am a bit of wonk with a passion for a good debate especially if I can also dig into some research and history. This exchange though, this Godless Liberal along with other name calling got me thinking about how we have changed in our interpersonal relationships, how we have changed in our communication manners.

The question of Godliness and Godlessness, religious affiliation, worship both what and how, whether we recognize them or not, have been taking center stage in our public life for decades now. Though we are enjoined from doing so by our laws, even by our Constitution and by implication by our Bill of Rights, we judge each other by a set of Principles. Do we truly all agree to and apply the same rigorousness to our Morals, Ethics and Principles? Do we all truly walk the walk each and every day? One key to answering these questions is, are they all one and the same thing, different aspects but in fact the same thing. Personally, I look at that list and think they are not the same; they are instead building blocks.

I have been thinking about this all week.  This is what I have ultimately come up with, tell me what you think and how you would respond to the scenarios, I have posed.

Morals: Primarily derived from religious thinking, all societies have basic frameworks that seem to be consistent though some are more deranged than others in their application of the rules.

  • Don’t be dishonest (Lie, Cheat, Steal)
  • Don’t be promiscuous and be faithful in your marriage (don’t covet either)
  • Don’t murder (killing might be okay for the right reason)
  • Be compassionate to those weaker than yourself (feed the hungry, care for the sick and aged)

Ethics: Primarily defined for businesses to operate in the marketplace, organizations establish these to clarify the rules and ensure everyone knows them. Personally, I think in many cases Business Ethics are the organizations smoke screen but that is just me. I have seen these few from past employers they have rarely been adhered to when they got in the way of profit.

  • Don’t pay bribes (Influence peddling)
  • Respect for individuals (Civil and Human Rights)
  • Respect for local culture
  • Respect for environment
  • Deliver profit to shareholders

Principles, Values, Scruples & Integrity: I have combined these because they are all personal in my mind. We develop personal and interpersonal relationships within society and with individuals, how we interact is based on our own evolution. Despite what some would have us believe we are not born Principled or with Integrity. When we come into the world, we are nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be filled.

So what are these amorphous ideals some of us develop over time and where do they come from?

Scenario 1:

Gladys has been part of a workplace Lottery pool for five-years.   Each week she and ten others put $1 into the pool and purchase a PowerBall ticket with the intent of splitting the proceeds should they win. Gladys collects the money and buys ten tickets for the pool, this week she also buys a ticket for herself with $1. Well, well one of the tickets wins the PowerBall, if Gladys is principled what will she do?

Scenario 2:

Pontdre is a company with well-documented business ethics that all new employees are required to read and sign their agreement too. George developed a new product with the potential of huge profits but it will require that Pontdre actively petition for a change to current government policies affecting the livelihood of another industry or group and could also cause significant negative ecological effects on nearby towns. How does Pontdre resolve this?

I am not going to provide a scenario for Morals; we can all come up with these. I will leave you with this though; I essentially filtered the 10 Commandments down to three (similar to George Carlin) and then added one of my own. Most religions agree with these as foundational notwithstanding the simpler language I used. I find myself in a quandary as I consider the issue of Morals, Ethics, Principles, Values, Scruples and Integrity –

Circling back to the idea of GODLESS LIBERAL and my answer of YES

If I read my 4 Commandments, I walk the walk every day. Thus, I have Morals.

If I read my Ethics, as a businessperson who has worked in a variety of roles for Fortune 100 companies and as an Independent Business Owner; I walk the walk and talk the talk. In fact, I have been trouble for doing so in the past.

If I read my definitions and scenarios for the last group, I know my answers and believe I am a person of Integrity, a Principled person.

Godless, perhaps if I apply the definition as society defines it this is true; I am not religious only spiritual.

Liberal, indeed I have been and am now a Progressive to the Left of Center Liberal in most things.

I wonder though, does this mean there is something wrong that makes me deserving of the other name-calling? I wonder how we get the name-calling toned down.

Stoning, burning at the stake, dunking have all been outlawed in the US of A for many years now; with Godless Liberal and very public Slut Walking making a comeback, I have to wonder what is next?

Warning: George Carlin can be a bit offensive. Don’t watch if you are easily offended by language or for that matter by his view of religion.

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