by Paul Hamlin
Decency – it can be brought back to life
Remember the days of “the wave”? You’d be out driving, running, walking, or out in public (with real people) and someone would see you, they may not even know you, but they’d strangely wave, or at the least nod. It was a bizarre ritual, almost to say “hey, I acknowledge your existence and I assume you’re not a horrible human being!”. There was a sense of decency in it all.
Oh, the good old days. Times when you used a telephone to actually talk to people, you would dial the number, it would ring, and a conversation would happen. Strange indeed.
Politics was contentious, people still disliked other people’s politics, policies and feelings…but somehow it never became personal. I don’t remember being called a “libtard”, “republitard”, etc…. I’m sure it happened some, but it seems like it was much more limited.
It doesn’t mean we were perfect, or that there weren’t bad moments, but overall it just seemed, I don’t know, more decent.
Today we are cloaked in anonymity, shielded by a keyboard or a smart phone. We feel like we can say almost anything we want to anyone, about anything, at any time. Want to argue with someone? Find a political post on Facebook…say something inflammatory, and just watch the pursuing pandemonium. There are some people who actually feel it is their sole task is life to do just that…they search for opposing opinions and they rile up anger and hate.
You should never break the rules of reading a political story, never actually read the comments. The stench will make your eyes water. It never takes long for someone to be crude, indecent or just mean. These are the same people who will then warn their kids about being a bully…can’t quite figure out why that message is lost on our youth.
Take a look at the impact it has had on our politics, we are so divided that our “leaders” no longer even try to discuss major issues, except with people who agree with them. Our leaders have been known to play on the anger of the people to ensure that the hate is beneficial to them or their political party! They have no intention of killing the fattened calf, because it is a topic that just keeps giving them a new base of voters and donors.
It really is a mess. Even when we have a “renewed sense of decency” it lasts all of two days in Washington DC…remember when congress people were shot by a deranged person? Remember the “spirit of unity” that existed for, oh about 20 minutes? We can’t even get along long enough to watch a movie together.
Where has this come from? It’s a symptom of a sick society. It is a symptom of people who no longer find value in other people. The anger is palpable, and we feel angry at the person who disagrees with us, personally. We no longer separate their opinion from the flesh and bone person. We see them as the enemy the moment they disagree with us.
Social media has allowed us to say whatever pops into our heads with little recourse or accountability. We can post our bile in the form of a rancid comment on a news story. We can attack anyone about anything…and we do.
The problem is that this symptom of illness is propagating the illness. With each withering, painful, malignant comment we feed the beast and make it worse. We see people in leadership roles stepping into the fray and making comments about people, not about the policy, but actually about the perceived personal flaws of their enemy. Problem is, they really AREN’T the enemy, they just don’t see things exactly the same.
How do we stop this insanity? A few ideas:
- Remember that the person across the table from you is not the enemy, even though you disagree.
- Stop using inflammatory language first…don’t wait for them to do it first, don’t point fingers at someone else, but decency requires that you be the bigger person.
- Listen…actually listen to the ideas of someone else. Try to understand why they feel the way they do. Try to empathize with them.
- Ask questions. The best way to ensure a mutually beneficial dialogue is to ask for clarification. Try not to ask “gotcha” questions or leading questions but be genuinely curious.
- Don’t reload. When someone else is sharing an idea, listen to them…don’t sit and reload for your next comment.
- Defuse don’t exacerbate. You can use calming words in your conversation instead of inflammatory words.
- Before you present your ideas, repeat what you think they said. Help them understand that you did listen, and you want a quality conversation.
- Monitor where and how you consume your news. We are a product of our own bias, break them by seeking news in multiple sources. It will allow for better conversation at the least and may change your opinion on a topic.
- Admit when you don’t know. Simply put, you are not an expert at everything, so it is acceptable to say “I don’t know” sometimes.
- Admit when you are wrong. Oh, we all make mistakes or discover our argument was wrong. Own it.
- Don’t approach any conversation with a “win at any cost” attitude. When we feel we must win at any cost we will say anything, we will bend reality to meet our needs, we will manipulate data and speaking points. Win at any cost means that someone is a loser in the conversation.
- Never allow anger to manipulate the conversation. If necessary, walk away before it becomes indecent.
- Rise above…if you know you are entering a difficult dialogue, set some ground rules. Laugh about your differences, enjoy the spirit of the dialogue (not just the outcome). Decency is a decision and a habit.
- Don’t engage with hate, if someone wants to troll you into vitriolic rhetoric, wish them well and send them on their way.
There are so many other ideas, and I am sure you all have your own tips and tricks. If you can master some of these ideas, and rise above the indecency, I would challenge you to run toward meaningful discussions.
We are at a point where we need as many decent people, leading decent conversation, as possible. If we stay out of the fray we are saying the principles of this nation, the leadership of our elected officials, the states of affairs are not worth solving and discussing.
Too many times we walk the other way because we don’t want to “talk about religion or politics”. I think we need to do the exact opposite, we need to have meaningful conversations about all of it.
We can’t run from it because if we do, the vacuum is filled with indecency.
(Paul Hamlin is running for US House of Representatives as an independent candidate in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District. You can find out more about him and his candidacy at paulhamlin.com).