A friend recently attached a Trump sticker to the back of his car. He has since been shouted at, flipped off, mocked and verbally assaulted. Fortunately, he has an amazing sense of humor. He is calm within himself and secure in his beliefs. Though initially startled by reactions from total strangers, he shrugs and takes the heat in stride. It is his car and he can put on whatever sticker he likes. When did it become okay to yell at someone you don’t know because they have a sticker contrary to your own political opinion?
My sons attended a university event last month where the invited guest speaker could not complete a sentence without vitriol spewing from the audience. People continuously interrupted, accusing the speaker of various offenses without allowing any response time. These interruptors did not wait for a question and answer period or politely phrase objections. They simply shouted over the invited guest. People paid for tickets to attend this lecture on a college campus, where a guest was denied the opportunity to share his perspective. Where was his right to expression? And the audiences right to listen?
Outrageous behaviors are being excused under the auspices of “free speech”. I support free speech. And I couldn’t give a fig what your political leanings are. That is irrelevant. Believe whatever you wish. But please don’t shout, rant and rail to express yourself. Be civil. Do not trample others rights in pursuit of your own.
Respect is the issue. I was raised to believe that open discussion of difficult principles was part of intellectual growth. At Thanksgiving my uncle would play devil’s advocate to whatever popular opinion held sway at the table. He would literally take an opposing view for the fun of it. Friendly arguments were family tradition, and one that we enjoyed. I learned how to think at that table and how to better articulate my own point of view. Yes we disagreed frequently and sometimes loudly. We also heard each other out and examined the merits of every position. It was intellectual exercise, affectionate ribbing and respectful discourse. We did not shout our opposition into silence, sling insult or heap humiliation.
Rational argument is a flashlight aimed at issues to achieve enlightenment. When respect is removed from the equation however, things get ugly. Rudeness prevents people feeling safe to express their own opinions. Those who shout and grandstand may be speaking freely but these abusive habits are offensive. They inhibit the expression of others. Intimidating someone into silence is not the way to ensure freedom.
By definition, universities should be a forum for intellectual discussion. Yet by failing to set guidelines and remove interruptors, universities are failing. Social criticism is rampant right now. Myriad campuses are exploring safe zones, environmental goals, transgenderism, and a host of worthy issues. Intimidation however is not forward thinking. Campuses are buckling under the weight of social expectation. In their struggle to be perceived as politically correct they are losing a critical quality: that of being objective. If they remove a protester from an event, they may be perceived as curtailing free speech. Due to that fear they are inadvertently crushing free speech.
Civility needs consideration. There should be guidelines for appropriate dissent. The university is simply a model for what is happening everywhere. Groups are not asking or persuading others to their viewpoint. They are demanding. Those who disagree are publicly taunted and shamed. Frenzied energy carries the day, logic silenced under outpourings of sarcasm and vitriol. Soon our society may look very much like Salem in the witchcraft trial days, full of raised voices and pointed fingers.
Look within a tinier microcosm, Facebook. Internet memes are a dime a dozen. It is easy to locate amusing tidbits to share. Some interaction is friendly and lighthearted. Yet there also exists a darker underbelly where rude replies to posts or simply insulting others has become its own form of amusement. I frequently witness gleeful chortling at snarky commentary. Why is it acceptable to belittle others online? Do you feel anonymous, safe behind your screen? If addressing a stranger are you less accountable for your words?
Trolls, online or in person, have never been attractive. They are abhorrent in fairy tales, despised creatures. Yet we now accept trolls and troll-like behaviors as part of our daily existence. We have forgotten our manners. We have erased respect in our dealings with others. Children learn that screaming tantrums do not solve problems. Adults must remember the same.
Politics and the internet are obvious examples. Lack of respect is everywhere. Much may ironically stem from our diet of political correctness. Though the intent of such awareness is good, the unintended results are often divisive. We cannot salute the flag without offending someone. We must take into account every individual circumstance in society, from educational challenges to economic level to sexual orientation and defend each loudly and with vigor. We have to hold society responsible and in our litigation happy world we do just that.
We have forgotten the importance of personal responsibility. We as individuals need to be held accountable for words and actions. We need to relearn the art of civil discourse. We should also stop whining and behaving as spoiled children. Not every difficulty requires a mothers intervention. Every human being faces challenges in their lifetime. Facing obstacles does not make you special. It makes you human. It is the difficulty of such challenges and how we face them that defines our character.
We have also forgotten our joy. We need to appreciate the positive aspects of our society, the good within people. Focus on the beauty in each day and the negatives do not disappear but rather slide into perspective. It is easy to be hot and bothered. Take a moment to breathe, think and appreciate before blowing off steam. For all our differences we are inherently alike.
Remember that we share this society with one another. Political correctness, the decline of religion, lack of traditional family values…there are hundreds of possible rationales for why we are no longer polite to one another. Poor television programming, outrageous video games, the state of our schools…the list goes on and on. None of it is pertinent. It just doesn’t matter. It is important that we correct it, starting with ourselves.
We need manners. Period. Each and every one of us. We should be responsible for conducting ourselves with dignity. Communicate effectively and politely. Demonstrate respect. Go ahead and improve our world, but be a decent human being while you are seeking that change. It is fine to protest or to hold a dissenting opinion. Express yourself often and well. Just remember, as my grandmother used to say, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”