I had a discussion with my grandmother a few years back. She lived to be 101, so had a deep history to draw from in conversations. We talked about how people related to each other these days, and how disappointing it was to see the lack of civility. When you turned on the news, she said, you no longer saw reasonable and intelligent people reporting, you saw crazy people jabbering on about their own point of view. Discussions were hateful and personal, almost like nobody had the intelligence to think for themselves so they needed the news to tell them how to think. Nobody had the courage to express their views sensibly, and had to try and rely on intimidation in a discussion.
I certainly agreed with her, as we commiserated about the sorry state of discussion and dialogue in our culture. She commented about how much my dad had liked to argue, and how refreshing that was. I wrote about his love for argument in this post.
My grandmother’s gone now, and I’m discovering something I wish I could share with her. The civility and reasoned way young people can discuss things today is refreshing, and I think she’d enjoy it.
I have a niece who posted something political on Facebook recently. I added a comment to her post.
Now first of all, right out of the gate, this is out of character for me. I usually don’t comment on Facebook – I’m what they call a “lurker”. (Sounds so sinister, doesn’t it?) But I wanted to comment on the post, and see if I could start a little dialogue with her. She’s in college, and I’m always anxious to engage college students in discussion – this is the time in their life when they should be developing an intellectual curiosity to carry them through life.
She responded respectfully and intelligently, with a very low “judgmental” factor. I was impressed. Some of her friends responded too, and while they disagreed with me, they did so respectfully and in the spirit of decent and intelligent dialogue. I was further impressed.
I entered another discussion at about the same time – also on Facebook. I posted something that drew a difference of opinion from someone. What I had posted was a shared link, where an intelligent person had shared their point of view. The response came from someone I knew, and it was one of those where several responses were left, one right after the other, each with much anger and shouting and finger-pointing. (Well, in fairness, I think that’s what it means when someone uses lots of caps and lots of exclamation points – it feels like shouting and finger pointing…)
The responder was someone of my own generation, and I was embarrassed for my generation. The shouter certainly had opinions, but these opinions weren’t presented logically and in a well thought-out manner. It felt like Anne Coulter yelling across the ether, or Rush Limbaugh spewing hate across the radio waves. In fact, the points made could have come right from soundbites from either of those sources.
Most disturbing was the lack of civility and respect, as though I was some sort of second-class person because I held an opinion that differed from the shouter. And the worst part is that I know the shouter well, and know him to be a good and decent human. A smart person. Someone I have a lot of respect for.
And yet, when we have political discussions among folks of my generation, it so often devolves into this swamp of disrespect and ugliness. It happens at holiday gatherings all across the country every year. We seem to have lost the ability to respect opinions and strong feelings that are different from our own. Surely I’m as guilty as the next guy – I look back at posts I’ve done from time to time that seem overly judgmental and opinionated, and I cringe.
But there’s hope. Seems that the generation before mine and the generation after mine are better at civility and respect than in my generation. The evidence comes from my children, and my niece, and their friends.
It would make my grandmother proud, and it makes me hopeful.