In this past Sunday's New York Times there were two different articles, in two different sections talking about two different political candidates. Even though the point behind each article was different I was struck with an underlying commonality- civility and manners.
In the case of one of the candidates it appears that civility and manners are severely lacking. He says what he wants to say to whomever he feels is listening with no thought that his words might be hurtful, divisive and derisive. There appears to be a growing segment of the population that thrives on this type of behavior. It is if they have been waiting for someone to say without filters all the things that have been bothering them for years. It is if they subscribed to the opposite wisdom of Thumper in Bambi, "If you have something nasty to say, then say it."
The other candidate, according to this article, is one who was raised on civility. He was taught to be a gracious winner and loser, to be careful in his speech and to demonstrate some self-restraint in dealing with other people with whom he differs. And, according to this article, it is a dying virtue. It is a point of view that is not seen as important to the voting public, rather it is seen as a source of weakness.
I am not particularly enamored with either candidate and am certainly not endorsing one candidate or the other but it did cause me pause. Why are we so quick to think a braggart, shoot from the hips and no holds barred type of speaker is possessing a strength and virtue? Why do we consider manners to be weak and passe? And in thinking so, we need to rid this behavior from society?
I wonder if it is our faceless society and nameless way of communicating that has conditioned us to think that just because we don't see someone's face it is okay then to call them out, say negative comments and even say things that verge on the edge of hatred. Certainly in this day and age if one is in the public light then one is fair game for receiving all sorts of vitriol. If we have to look someone in the eye would we say that which what we do in the safety of anonymity?
The thing is, the say-whatever mentality immediately breaks down any future communication and so each camp ends up inciting each other with the same rhetoric. It just encourages more bad behavior. "If you say those types of things about me, I will just retaliate in kind." Eventually no one listens. Both parties end up extremely frustrated and so, when someone who is louder than everyone else speaks, it is seen as good because the words are expressed. Yet those unfiltered words break down the communication and so the cycle continues and nothing is accomplished.
It takes much more thought and effort to be civil and mannerly. It is a strong person who can suppress his/her urge to "shut the other person down" in order to maintain an open dialogue. It is a strong person who lays aside his/her desire to "stick it to the opponent" for the sake of living in human community. It is the strong person who looks at the long term picture of working together rather than "winning" every little battle.
I wonder about my own relationships and how I communicate? Regrettably I can recall times when I spewed venomous pronouncements about someone not in my presence. Thankfully it was only in the presence of kin yet still the words were spoken, the poison was out in the air and with it, the potential to corrode the thinking of all who hear.
I also know that it is hard to look someone in the eye and say words that the recipient might not want to hear. Yet it is because I am looking into his/her eyes I am compelled to temper my tone and words. I need to think before I speak, to reflect on the implications of what I say and how it will be received and to temper my words accordingly. Not a bad thing and much needed in this world.
What about you? Have you noticed the change in the speech of one to another? Not only with our political candidates but in the day to day communications or in the internet communications? How do you respond?
Charles Dickens opens his novel, The Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." It seems like lately, especially during this political campaigning season, we are experiencing the best and worst of human behavior.
I am choosing to focus on the best- to try and to be kind, gracious, understanding, slow to speech, slow to anger, empathetic and loving in my dealings with one other- those seen and unseen. Won't you join me?