Sometimes we might feel that getting a controversial point across to someone else in a heated conversation is like explaining trigonometry to a five-year-old. No matter how many graphs, equations, appeals to reason, or practical descriptions one offers, your words hit a brick wall. Your adversary responds with a nonsensical reply. In common parlance, you have a facepalm moment.
I wish that the politicians and religionists who are trying to monopolize the public forum would have the decency to take a time out and give us all a well-deserved rest from their rhetoric. It’s difficult to avoid the rudeness and use of hyperbole. It wasn’t long ago that I felt so frustrated that I wrote a post on civility. Well, here I go again. It probably won’t be the last one, either.
The promises of extreme retribution and outright expressions of hatred do nothing but create polarization. It seems to me, like we’re in a downward death spiral of negative public discourse. Truthfully, I don’t think our public discussions will improve any time soon.
Many of us desperately want our elected officials and candidates for office to behave like grownups. We’ve been sick and tired of overblown political and religious rhetoric, for quite awhile. There are literally billions of dollars being pumped into campaigns that blame and scapegoat. The fierce, mean, negativity is tiring to hear on a daily basis. Buzzwords are hurled like grenades into the public sphere.
If the negativity was restricted strictly to words, we could just tune them out. The problem with words, is that they inspire and promote action. All this blaming, shaming, scapegoating, and threatening fans the flames of mayhem and murder. Hatred and violence are poisons to democratic republics. Civil discourse is endangered in the United States. The shouting, ranting, and demonization has destroyed our credibility among other nations.
This is not an isolated, American problem. Internationally, “truth bombs” are dropped into partisan and religious disputes on a regular basis. The verbal sparring has escalated to actual civil unrest, terrorism, and warfare. We’re operating under the direction of our “reptilian” brains and not our frontal cortexes. History has shown that escalation of fierce negativity only leads to oppression and tyranny.
This has been going on and escalating in our collective culture for so long, that the average person doesn’t see the imminent dangers. Average people cannot fathom the depth of the problem because average people have been immersed in the negative atmosphere of the status quo. For most folks, all of this negativity seems normal.
I’m reminded of the part of the boiling frog parable that is germane to this problem. If a frog is placed into a pot of cold water then heat is gradually applied, the frog will remain in the pot. It will not leap out, but will slowly acclimate to the increasing temperature until it boils to death. The cultural water in our pot is reaching the boiling point. It’s time to dial back the heat.
Calmer minds will need to teach our leaders and trend-setters how to turn unsubtantiated opinions into reasoned, civilized arguments. This will enable us to turn dangerous, inflammatory quarrels into lively, productive, civilized discussions again.
It may seem overly simple on the surface, but I think a major step towards a solution to our uncivil discourse is to re-introduce civil discourse. This must be done at home, in schools, in social media, in mass media, in religion, and politics. Once upon a time, proper etiquette and good manners were the default mode of behavior, not the rare exception. In my opinion, preachers and politicians should be compelled to sit down and study the wisdom writings of Miss Manners and Emily Post.
Seriously, I think that the United States and much of the international community are suffering from a deficit of politeness and good manners. Proclamations of doom, and damnation will fail to convince anyone to listen seriously to an opinion of faith or political creed. Crudeness and rudeness are like pouring sand into the crankcase of an internal combustion engine. The motor will be destroyed, and the vehicle will not be able to proceed.
Sincere expressions of politeness and courtesy work wonders in daily discourse. Why did we forget the basic lessons of etiquette from childhood? It takes little or no effort at all to say “please”, “thank you”, “I beg your pardon”, or “I’m sorry”. Politeness and empathy are like pouring the highest grade motor oils into the crankcase of that engine. The motor will operate at optimal performance. The vehicle will be able to travel down the road swiftly and efficiently. We will arrive at our destination more satisfactorily.
People who are most effective think clearly and act respectfully. In other words, the manner in which we speak is every bit as important as the content of our message. What we decide not to say can be as powerful as what we choose to say.
When our turn to talk is over, etiquette states that we must respectfully listen to the other party. We know that it takes more than one person to engage in conversation.
Proper etiquette and manners translate very well to the Internet and social media. We know that “trolling” is unwelcome, online. Interjecting contrarian and obtuse comments into comments sections or topics forums creates friction and breaks down communication almost instantly. Whereas, polite discussion and thoughtful, diplomatic expressions of disagreement go a long ways towards resolution of a question or controversy. Etiquette is the best lubricant for public discourse.
The use of threats and the advocacy of harrassment, violence, or death creates a wall of non-communication. People do not respond well to bullying tactics and dishonesty. If we are sincerely interested in solving disputes and preserving our treasured democratic way of life, the best method I can think of is to exercise civil discourse. Always practicing etiquette and respect for others, at all levels of society, is probably the best template for satisfactory outcomes.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this statement from author Neil Postman: “Teevee serves us most usefully when presenting junk-entertainment. It werves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse–news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion.”