Attempting Civility


“Is a danger to be trusting one another.  One will seldom want to do what other wishes.  But unless someday somebody trust somebody, there’ll be nothing left on Earth excepting fishes.”  — King Mongkut, The King and I, Rogers and Hammerstein

Even if I were not vitally interested in the Fate of the Nation, as enacted on the national stage this year (ie., the elections upcoming), I live with a passionate 16-year-old. Sticking my fingers in my ears and humming LALALALALALA is not possible. And I am interested, anxious, horrified, angry, hopeful–the full damned gamut of emotions–about the Presidential race.

But I’m also getting creeped out, increasingly, by the kneejerk partisan rhetoric I’m subjected to, day after day.  It ain’t that I don’t have opinions.  But I have relationships to preserve (my brother and I are about has far apart on the political and religious spectrum as you can get and still be part of the same species, and yet I love him and do not want to start a land-war). I find myself increasingly unwilling to deal with Incivility in Discourse. And that includes Incivility on my side as well as the other.

Perhaps this means I’m a coward (for the record, I probably am. Loud noises and people hating each other distress me. I put it down to bad early training). But when my friends post gleeful memes mocking the entirely mock-able foibles of The Other Side, I laugh, but I also squirm. I love Rachel Maddow’s incisive, smart commentary, but I wish she’d temper her name-calling a little, because she’s playing to her base, and she’s not going to convince anyone who is undecided. Some of my more passionate atheist friends, tired of being called Satanic and Eeevil by the loudest of the Professionally Religious, are getting just as stridently incivil about religion as the folk who yell at them.

I crave evenhandedness, and this isn’t the year for it.

Aside from my general discomfort with the pitch of rage I’m encountering in political discussion, I keep coming back to this: how is any of this helping? God knows calling someone a name or making fun of their political opinions may make me, for a short time, feel all better and stuff. But because I do feel that the fate of the future is very much on the line, settling for feeling better in the short term may not be the best tactic. Certainly it isn’t for me.

For the next couple of months, here and in my other online interactions, I am going to try to be civil about politics, and demand, as much as I can, that others be so too. If this means shutting down a discussion on my Facebook feed because people of either stripe can’t resist a dig, so be it. If it means not reposting a meme I find truthful and funny because I know it’s also a cheap shot, I will grab myself by both hands and resist. I will declare my beliefs, but I won’t call someone a moron because he or she doesn’t share them. I’m going to attempt the same level of tact I approached when I was 14 and surrounded by my grandmother’s terrifyingly conservative friends (because Grannie loved them, and I loved Grannie).

To misquote another, far goopier song, “let there be civility on Earth, and let it begin with me.”


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Attempting Civility — 6 Comments

  1. A civility – a rare commodity, especially in politics. But of course civility requires an acknowledgement of the other party as a reasonable, flexible, persuadable human being. Somehow everything has become polemic and nothing logic. If we claim that every decision is moral, anyone who argues against it is the devil in disguise. And somehow we believe that if something is moral or immoral we think all we can do is shut our eyes and ears and plunge onward toward our sacred goal. And any hope of dialogue, empiricism, or compromise is abandoned. 🙁

  2. You haven’t seen Democrats or anti-the other side calling for the killing of a Republican, as you see them doing — a lot, including musicians like Hank Williams Jr. (his daddy is rolling in his grave!). When the Dixiechicks’ Natalie Maines, protesting the insane invasion of Iraq in England, said, “We were ashamed to call bush our president,” — not using any dirty words or name calling, just stating their political and moral position on this invasion that was killing, maiming and displacing tens of thousands of innocent people in a country that had nothing to do with bringing down the Towers, “They” went insane, with death threats and everything else. The big money They put the pressure on and the Dixiechicks’ career was over — no more air play for them, by golly. Democrats and their supporters have not done any of this. I’m not defending a whole bunch of things the Obama administration has done, but there is still a whole lot they have done, which They do all the time and have for decades. (And yes, in the meantime, in answer to that question on the Eve of the Dem Convention, We are better off now than in 2008 — a lot better off in more than one way.)

    Now eight years of the republican corporation of America will destroy that. Most of all they are — its in the frackin’ campaign platoform — again! — intent on destroying women’s reproductive medical rights on every level.

    Mad, we can be certain this won’t happen to your daughters for all kinds of reasons, thank goodness — but we know it will happen to other people’s daughters, because it already is. They die or are permanently hurt by illegal abortions. Their parents have some very harsh words coming from their mouths. It won’t happen to your daughters, thank goodness, but if it did, those words would come from your lips too.

    I’m not preaching at you, honestly. But there is another way to see this. And one of the ways others see it it is, “I am superior to those willing to get their hands dirty in the war that affects us all.”

    That said, too, I deplore the constant memes of “Look how stupid They are!” because — They ain’t stupid, and you’re only preaching to the choir. It does no good, except to confirm ourselves in our innate superiority and intelligence. And we see where that has gotten us in all these decades since Nixon — fighting all the same battles all over again.

    With love — C.

    • Constance: I’m not ceding the war. I have two daughters, and believe me, this stuff is very very much on my mind. I will speak my mind and my beliefs.

      But I have decided not to indulge myself with the stuff that just plays to my own personal base, and to resist calling names. Not because I’m a good person, but because I think this all matters too much to let a momentary satisfaction, moral superiority, or even a quick joke get in the way of communication and the hope of real progress (I’m not preaching at you, either).

  3. I’m trying very hard to post thoughtful things about both points of view — and good articles on why I like my side, if you will. There are still a few conservatives, not GOP nuts, left, and some of them are finally saying “Enough!” and speaking up. I’m not giving up the battle, which is crucial — but no longer going for the extreme jokes to the believers, etc.

    We must struggle for conversation to once again be the bottom line, or there cannot be compromise. And our government was designed to force compromise.

    Personally I am very worried, C, if Obama doesn’t win. But I’m doing what I can, from nagging people to register to vote on out. Down here, all I can hope for is enough fed-up women that we toss out some Tea Partiers downstream. My fear is that people will not wise up until their health insurance disappears and they are supporting their aging parents in the back bedroom.

    But preaching doesn’t help, so I am resisting it. And trying not to despair. A recent constable primary down here had one new person, and two people (one the incumbent) with indictments against them. Guess who ended up in the run-off?