Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bullies In The Sandbox

I recently received one of the best compliments ever.  I was having – not a debate, exactly, but a marked difference of opinion with someone, and she said this:  You however always express yourself well and kindly.  Thank you for that.”

I want to make a point here that I know that not everyone shares my political views. Or religious views. Not everyone has my background or knows my story or shares my motivations or is active in the causes I’m active in.

That’s all right. The world does not need to be filled with copies of me. (Can you imagine? The HORROR.)

What is NOT all right – and what I see more and more as the political campaigns drag out and on – is to be a bully.  A blowhard.  An aggressive, mean, lowest common denominator name calling aggressor. The kind of person you wouldn’t want your kids to play with or be exposed to for fear that they would begin emulating that behaviour – except, of course, that they ARE exposed to them. Every time you turn on the tv.

I’m frustrated. 

And a little bit angry.

Because I believe in telling at risk kids that it gets better. But I’m worried that we have a culture of bullies. I’m worried that we as a nation seem to prize, celebrate, and in some ways value bad behaviour. I’m worried that we don’t know how to be civil, polite, respectful.

It concerns me that I got a compliment for the fact that I can engage in a difference of opinion with someone without being angry and overbearing, as though my acceptance of her views – though it’s clear that I don’t agree with them – is something remarkable.

It shouldn’t be remarkable.

It should be “having a conversation.”

It should be “We’re not five years old and we don’t need to resort to yelling and insults and tantrums.”

I feel both alarmed and ashamed that I have come to realize the actions of, say, a Westboro Baptist Church? Are closer to the nature of our political discourse (if not our NATIONAL level of discourse) than I am comfortable with.  And I am concerned that this is what we’re becoming: a nation of shouters. A nation of name callers.

A nation of bullies.

And if you tell me, no, I’m wrong, I’d ask you again: Look at the ads our politicians run. Look at the way they speak to and about each other.  Look at the way we often speak about them.

It gets better? When?

Here’s when.

It gets better when we as a people decide that freedom of speech does not mean “The freedom to see who can shout the most damaging and demeaning things the most loudly.”

It gets better when we begin turning our backs on politicians and pundits who resort to insults and name calling as a way to elevate their own views.

It gets better when we look at ourselves, the ways in which we speak and the things that we say, and recognize that being respectful and kind to all people – even if their views are the opposite of our own, even if we disagree with everything they say – is more important than being right. Because the truth is that someone who is vehemently opposed to what you believe will NOT be convinced by your shouting and abusive posturing that you are correct and they are wrong. In fact, it will reinforce everything they think they know about you.

And if you are in a debate and it starts to go downhill? Respectfully decline to continue. I have found “I’m sorry, but we seem to disagree and I’m uncomfortable with how angry you’re getting” diffuses the situation a lot better than seeing who has the greater capacity for volume.

“You express your views well and kindly” is a wonderful compliment.

We should all be deserving of it.

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