R.I.P. Civil Discourse

It once was considered good form to engage one’s brain before engaging one’s mouth.  This procedure was known as ‘civility’, or ‘civil discourse’, and was once quite popular.  It was the thing, perhaps, that kept us from killing each other.  It was the thing that kept marriages together, even in times of trouble.  Until one day somebody, and I know not who, gave the process a name:  political correctness.  For some reason, giving it a name made it a process to be shunned, made it unpopular.

The latest evidence of the reversal of civil discourse is a comment I read this morning by republican Senator Orrin Hatch when speaking to a group at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday:

[We] finally did away with the individual mandate tax that was established under that wonderful bill called Obamacare. Now, if you didn’t catch on, I was being very sarcastic. That was the stupidest, dumbass bill that I’ve ever seen. Some of you may have loved it. If you do, you are one of the stupidest, dumbass people I’ve ever met. [emphasis added] There are a lot of them up there on Capitol Hill from time to time.”

Hatch later apologized, sort of, for his remarks saying they were ‘flippant’ and ‘off-the-cuff’, though it appeared he was reading from a prepared speech. ‘A poorly-worded joke’, he said. Not to let Senator Hatch off the hook, for he deserves to be called on the carpet for his remarks, but he is only one of many who, seemingly energized by the populist movement in general, and by Donald Trump specifically, have relaxed both their brains and their mouths, and allow whatever thoughts they have to tumble out unfettered.

There are many definitions for ‘civil discourse’:

  • “Engagement in discourse intended to enhance understanding …”
  • “The language of dispassionate objectivity”

A June editorial in the Los Angeles Times suggests “Trump didn’t birth American intolerance. He’s the manifestation of our long-disturbed national dialogue.”  In response, a reader of the Times wrote …

“When personal computers and the Internet became ubiquitous, civility was dealt a final blow. It’s so easy to be nasty and cruel sitting at a keyboard, never seeing what impact the nastiness and vulgarity are having on the recipients of such missives.”

We could debate … with civility … for days and still not likely pin down an answer about when, how and why we have lost the art of true communication sans rancor, or civil discourse.  But the debate is rather pointless, rather like worrying about how the dog got rabies, instead of taking the dog to the vet to be treated for the condition.

We in the U.S. are living in the most divisive, polarized environment since the Civil War era, and the thing that is most lacking is understanding of the other side.  Understanding is not going to come to any of us in a nightly dream, nor is it going to suddenly strike us like a streak of lightening.   The only path to understanding is going to come through conversation.  By conversation, I do not mean the type of communication we see daily on CNN or Fox News, where people are constantly deriding one side or the other, name-calling and using phrases that are designed not to communicate, but to stir anger and resentment.  The only thing this type of communication accomplishes is to push the two sides further apart.

Not long ago, I wrote a piece titled Thoughts on Integrity in which I opined that integrity is basically dead in many areas including government, medicine and religion.  I would say the same for civility, only I would add that the loss of civility has extended to many other areas, including families, friendships and neighbors.

If we are to make a start at narrowing what I have referred to as The Great Divide in this nation, we are going to have to have a return to civil discourse, a return to kindness, compassion, a return to listening to what another person says rather than listening only with the intention of providing a response.  We need to listen to each other … truly listen.  Then, before responding, we must think … process what was said, and respond with calmness, not rancor, not vitriol.  This is not easy, but I think that the longer we wait to make a start, the harder it gets.  I too am guilty of this.  Words can hurt, words can anger … we need to choose our words much more carefully.  We must learn, once again, to be kind.

I’m not advocating that we have to agree with everything we hear, for we are not lemmings.  But there are ways of disagreeing without offending.  Our words need not be a personal affront, or target the other person.  We can, as one of my friends is fond of saying, respectfully agree to disagree and move on.

But I think the example needs to come from the top.  Church leaders need to remove the politics of intolerance and hate from their speech.  Politicians, our elected representatives, need to treat us and also each other with respect.  For a senator to refer to the people he has been tasked to represent as ‘stupid’ or ‘dumbass’ is simply unacceptable.  Every one of his constituents should be writing letters respectfully protesting and reminding him that he faces re-election in a few short months.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of speech, and yes, hate speech is protected as long as it does not incite violence.  Whether that should be the case or not is a discussion beyond the scope of this post, but it is up to us to show some common sense, to treat others with respect, to learn to keep our mouths shut sometimes.  Just because you can say something, just because the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to say something cruel and senseless, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  It doesn’t necessarily mean it is helpful or will solve any problems.

The leaders of this nation, both in Congress and in the White House, need to first set the tone, need to learn to speak without raised voices, without shaking fists, without name calling.  But first, they need to learn to listen.  How can they possibly manage the government that is ‘by the people, for the people, and of the people’ if they do not listen to the people, if they do not know the needs of the people, and if they view We the People as ‘stupid dumbasses’?

Is civil discourse dead?  Perhaps so.  Can it be revived?  Surely it can, but it requires the effort of each and every one of us.  It requires a commitment to respect the opinions of others, even those we disagree with.  And it requires that sometimes we be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, we were wrong.  The ability to say, “I’m sorry”.  Think about it.

52 thoughts on “R.I.P. Civil Discourse

    • You are quite right. Thank you for the link … after reading that well-written and thoughtful post, I took a quick look around your blog, liked what I found, and followed. You write some thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Dear Jill,

    I love your timely post.

    I say this as a former sales person. I could guarantee myself the loss of a sale if I talked down to the client. Contrary to stereotype, successful sales folks are good listeners.

    The only sale worth losing is the one where the customer is disrespectful of the salesperson. Dealing with peoples/ cheaters like Donald Trump is not worth it.

    Good sales numbers are increased over time as relationships are built, developed and nourished.

    In short, solid relationships can be had if all parties treat each other with respect even if there are disagreements. You look for where a consensus can be achieved which is always a win-win solution.

    Those who push for I win- You lose agreements may win in the short term but there will be a price paid eventually.

    Shouting, screaming, lying, demeaning tactics are always the traits of a losing team.This includes President Trump and his buddies. Unfortunately we are stuck with the booby prize for a short time.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Gronda! You are right … mutual respect goes such a long way, and yet some people seem to find it so very difficult. And as you say, in sales, or any form of customer service really, it is so important to treat people with respect. I am so tired of going to the grocery and having the checkout person, usually a young person, too busy bantering with another employee to even say “hello”. Not long ago, the cashier said something to me which I did not catch, for I am quite hard of hearing and she mumbled whatever she said. When I politely asked her to repeat what she said, she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh never mind, just forget it!” And then she winked at the other employee who was bagging my groceries, and they both laughed. I did something that I had never done before … I went straight to customer service and reported the incident. We really must learn better how to talk to other people, to make them feel like we respect them and care about their thoughts and opinions, even if we don’t agree with them.


      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    It’s all going, going, gone … out the window!!
    ‘This procedure was known as ‘civility’, or ‘civil discourse’, and was once quite popular. It was the thing, perhaps, that kept us from killing each other. It was the thing that kept marriages together, even in times of trouble. Until one day somebody, and I know not who, gave the process a name: political correctness. For some reason, giving it a name made it a process to be shunned, made it unpopular.’

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I agree with everything you have said, Jill, but (you know I’ve always got a but) there are times when direct talk is more powerful than being kind. I know I try to speak and write with intelligence, but that is my idea of intelligence. I am sure there are lots of others who see or hear my words quite differently than I mean to be using them, but I am not about to apologize for being direct. DT is not worthy of my respect, nor can I find anything useful to listen to when he speaks/tweets. He is the ignoramus of all ignoramusi, and if I had the chance I would gladly tell him that to his face.
    But having said that, yes, it is better to listen and understand as best as possible before taking a gun and shooting the basted. A dead DT is a DT unable to tell another lie…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree … Trump himself deserves no respect, no consideration. But, when talking to those who so blindly believe in him, I find I’m more likely to get them to listen to me, if I am also willing to listen to them. Doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I at least try to listen and give them the courtesy of thinking about what they tell me, processing it, and then responding with my thoughts on it. I haven’t, obviously, changed any minds, but I have gotten a few people to consider what I say and admit that they hadn’t thought of certain points I made. I think it’s a start, albeit a baby step. That said, I especially like your last paragraph! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • As heartfelt as I could make it.
        Baby steps are necessary–when talking to babies. When talking to children, you have to let them know you hear them, and learn their thinking processes. But after that, while respect is a necessary quality, is it real respect, or fake? Sometimes the line can get mighty blurry.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Y’know … you are right … often it isn’t genuine respect, but merely that we are treating the other person in a respectful manner. There is a difference, but that’s where the civil discourse comes in. Take religion, for example. I am anti-religious, as I believe you already know, but I try to be respectful of those who are deeply religious (which includes a large number of my friends and family). Do I genuinely respect their opinions? No, but I respect their right to hold those beliefs/opinions, and thus I do not denigrate them. Until ….. they try to shove their beliefs down my throat, and then I pull no punches.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. You have brilliantly written what has been on my mind. That is, why can’t we come to the middle and listen to one another, respect one another, work with one another? Civility seems to have gone out the window and it makes my heart sad to see that people are so intent on disagreement, rudeness and anger. How does that make American or anything better?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you!!! You made me smile and blush with your kind compliment 😊

      To answer your question, no, the divisiveness, the vitriol and hatred that we see every day does nothing to make America or anything better. Sadly, we are all, and I must shamefully include myself in this, so convinced that our own opinions are the right ones, that we fail to listen, to consider, any that do not agree with us. I will be honest — I don’t see a solution at this point. I know there must be a peaceful way back to civility, but I just don’t know what it is. I try to listen to the other side, I encourage a wide variety of opinions on my posts, and to some extent, I have caused others to think about things, perhaps in a different way. But it is a baby step. Perhaps a start? I don’t know. I am as guilty as any, though, of engaging in the occasional rant. 😦

      Thanks for your comment and for following! I hope you will continue to find something to like here!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. It seems that a heap of blame for this, may be formed on internet. Especially, what is also called social media. While I appreciate the previous anonymity of it and still do. Many use this facet, to heap vitriol on others. I hold my hand up, there was a time I was unguarded in commentary. Maybe not here? I hope not? My memory of the sin is from more than a decade ago. Since then, I am trying to be better than this.

    Still, there are many people cutting the legs off of others, to appear taller. There are many ways of doing that. Ignorance abounds on the internet and social media. Mis-spelling, poor grammar and second rate opinions. I try to accept this, with grace. Remembering the adage of sticks and stones and so on.

    Let us be frank here. As an outsider I always saw that universal healthcare policy from the Soetoro family, heavily flawed. His wife made millions from it. It would be better to sweep it away and introduce a good universal healthcare? Not holding my breath on that. One might see how the rightwing fascist British government is doing, to NHS? Since Tony Blair, they are hollowing it out for profit. So what chance of USA ever getting one from the bankers? Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jill, you and I are on the same page. As I have written many times, name calling, shouting and demeaning others are shortcuts when the speaker’s arguments are poor. Senator Hatch and the President should know better. So, when things are deemed a disaster or disgraceful or someone is called a derogatory name, do yourself a favor and consider the other position more carefully. In fact, when I hear the President do this, my first thought is the other side has more merit.

    Jesus said it best – treat others like you want to be treated. For discourse, we need to give like we want to hear it. Finally, an old boss used to say, “You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.” Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well done! But I am not at all certain civil discourse can be revived. It would involve the shutting down of the entertainment industry and educating the educators. A huge task! It’s all about how you FEEL and “Letting it all hang out.” You and I have discussed this — in a very civil manner!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Hugh! Given the current state of affairs, you are quite likely right that ‘civil discourse’ cannot be revived. But … my belief is that there will come an ‘event’ that will change so much, so dramatically, that there will be a reset on humanity and humanitarian values. When, I don’t know, but if one looks back at history … it seems the only answer. Sigh. While working on my M.A. in Political Science, I worked as a research assistant for a PoliSci professor. He wrote a paper on how countries use wars and other external assaults to bring about internal cohesion. A lot of what I read during that time made sense. Think about how people came together, if only for a matter of days, after 9/11. Anyway, back to the point … no, we are not likely to have a return to civility if left on the path we are on at present.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is why I am very wary of folk who are ‘plain speakers’ or ‘speak their mind’ as this normally translates into ‘shooting the mouth off’. At the risk of Scaring The Horses, there are parallels with the years prior to the Civil War, though the path would probably go down a civic one with states and big cities finding bits off the constitution which say ‘We can go our own way’ and you’ll end up with something like The Holy Roman Empire, of which Madison said was “a nerveless body; incapable of regulating its own members; insecure against external dangers and agitated with unceasing fermentations in its own bowels.”
    At the present Brexit has lapsed into a traditional British stew of confusions and grumbling which when left to cool normally comes out as a big bar of fudge.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Yep … I have no problem with ‘plain speakers’ if they are well-informed about the topic of which they speak. Trouble is, most aren’t. Already we see some states and cities defying the rulings being handed down from the White House, and in most cases I applaud them, for they are right and the administration is causing chaos, leaving rubbish in their wake.

      Brexit does seem to be in a muddle, doesn’t it? Gee … who could have predicted this??? 🙄 🙄 🙄 A ‘big bar of fudge’ or a big pile of 💩 ?

      I love the phrase … “… agitated with unceasing fermentations in its own bowels.” 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • They had a style in the 18th Century…….
        Brexit is a typical British kerfuffle! We’re expert at taking simple problem and making a complete ‘splat’ out of it!
        That’s why you guys got Independence (with some help from The French!)😉

        Liked by 2 people

          • Only if you promise to:
            1. Learn the rules of cricket.
            2. Drive on the sensible side of the road.
            3. Take milk (or substitute) with your coffee. All that plain unsugared brew is bound to be a contributory cause of national dyspepsia.
            4. Get rid of that Electoral College- see where it got you this time!
            5. Anyone without a military or law enforcement record who insists on owning a semi-automatic gun has to undergo an annual live fire exercise (no, they are the ones getting shot at as they crawl across an obstacle course- it’s quite Darwinian).
            That’ll do for starters! 😸😸😸😸😸😸😸

            Liked by 4 people

            • Is there any room for compromise here?
              1. I know the rules of cricket, for I have explained them to the kitties many, many times … do not pull all six of their legs out, one by one, and do not stomp on them with your paw! Crickets are good luck, but not if you decimate them.
              2. If I drove on what you refer to as the ‘sensible’ side of the road, I would be having a head-on collision every time I went out!
              3. Milk curdles in hot liquid. I will, however, take one small teaspoon of sugar … real sugar, not the substitute stuff … per cup. And for the record, I will take a spoon of sugar in hot tea, but cold tea I prefer unsweetened and with a wedge of lime.
              4. On this, I can agree 100% … the electoral college did the very thing it was designed to prevent … it must go!
              5. I also agree to this one 100%

              So, since #2 & #3 are the only ones I have a problem with, can we compromise on those?

              Liked by 2 people

              • 1. I know the rules of cricket, for I have explained them to the kitties many, many times … do not pull all six of their legs out, one by one, and do not stomp on them with your paw! Crickets are good luck, but not if you decimate them.

                I had to laugh at that one. I don’t think that’s the kind of cricket that he had in mind. I’m pretty sure he was asking about the kind of cricket where people talk about bowling a maiden over.

                Liked by 2 people

                • 😀 Yeah, I knew what he meant, but figured he would get a bit of a chuckle out of my response! Glad you did, too! Frankly, though, I have never seen a cricket match and doubt I ever will, for I am no sports enthusiast. Baseball is about the only sport I can even follow! 😉

                  Liked by 2 people

                • In truth, Boo (Booker T Washington, Boo for short) is the only one who decimates crickets, but he has it down to a science. And yes, I knew you meant the game, but I am more well-versed in the critters than the game. You know I don’t do sports!

                  While I might eventually learn to do milk in the coffee, though milk and I don’t always get along well, the driving on the wrong side of the road thing is likely to be a bigger problem. A few months ago, you may recall, when my vision was all but gone and yet I stubbornly insisted that I was capable of driving to the grocery and back, I tried that ‘driving on the other side of the road’ thing. Would you like me to send you the pictures of the car after I worked my way out of the ditch line? Just thankful there were no police about that evening! 🚓 👮 🚨

                  Liked by 2 people

  9. My mother once said to me if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all – I would add to this saying – but if you listen perhaps you will find insight. I really feel the ability to listen was the first casualty

    Liked by 4 people

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