Fighting for Civility


This space is normally relegated to discussing Green Stamps, cashing in pop bottles found on the side of the road, or other memories from my youth.

All of the topics addressed here are presented for a couple of reasons. One, in my opinion, Americans are the most nostalgic bunch on the planet. Two, talking about shared experiences brings a respite from today’s stressors.

A common thread in the stories I tell (and I didn’t think about it until I sat down to write this) includes the civility that most of us experienced, heck, I’ll go so far as to say, felt guaranteed when we were growing up. Hindsight, we took civility for granted.

There are lots of local channels that air reruns of TV shows from the past. If you want to see the difference in civility today and civility just a generation ago, tune in MeTV, Decades, or one of the other networks that air old programs.

These are low-powered, second-tier channels that sometimes can’t be found on cable, so they require people putting up an antenna to receive them. People are making the effort to use an antenna to watch them, and some channels are getting huge audiences. Some ratings numbers rival or surpass local news’ viewership in certain markets.

People would rather see the actions of Barney Fife than reports of the actions of real citizens.

The reason, I believe, is simple. We are watching behavior in our country spiral into an almost complete lack of civility. Some, including one elected official in Congress, are encouraging confrontation with those who don’t share their politics.

This is dangerous.

A review of history reveals that this isn’t the first time this has happened in our country. And it is worth noting that previously, those instances didn’t end well.

One of the Founding Fathers of our country, and the architect of the US financial system, Alexander Hamilton, died after being shot in a duel by then Vice President Aaron Burr. Burr was running for Governor of New York and Hamilton called him, “Unworthy.”

Prior to The Civil War, a senator was almost beaten to death with a cane by another senator on the floor of the senate after they got into an argument.

After The Civil War, two former friends named Hatfield and McCoy, had a falling out related to the war. These two patriarchs of their respective families watched members of each of their families slain by the other. And this went on for years.

The 1960s were filled with criminal acts, riots, public derision, and fist fights. All because people didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, attempt to sit down and talk out their differences.

The CBS News show 60 Minutes used to include a segment called, Point/Counterpoint. Two individuals sat on a sound stage and, facing each other, they were filmed making their cases on a current topic they were given.

This was a mirror of what happened at the time in coffee shops and diners across America. Friends could sit down and talk.

But, in the last few years, we’ve seen people lose their ability, desire, or both, to be kind to each other.

Whenever people don’t or can’t formulate a viable set of discussion points to make their case for their beliefs, they often resort to name calling and hostile confrontation, which often leads to violence – or worse.

I’m from the South. Southerners don’t walk away from a fight. But, we will try our best to avoid anything leading up to one.

Threats are a slippery slope. But, unlike many slippery slopes, a loss of civil discourse – the ability to entertain and calmly respond to ideas we do not share – is a slope that leads to a place we do not want to be. A place that is very difficult to leave.

I was taught to avoid altercations – when possible. Walk away when I could. But, to never take a whipping.

Those who are encouraging confrontation need to be told, reminded, or helped to understand, that not everyone has had the same upbringing they had. If you are encouraging people to employ unprovoked hostility, you might want to explain to them how unexpected retaliation works.

We all need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and walk away from people who are trying to pick a fight for political reasons. But those who are trying to act like they are tough, better understand that there are plenty of folks who are.

Talk isn’t cheap. It’s expensive.

©2018 John Moore

John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now, is available on Amazon.

Email John at

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