All Candidates, Including President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, Can Encourage New Thinking on Civility…and Incivility

As election season approaches, think of the history of these United States.  Think of the proud American spirit.  Think about living in a country that takes the time to have debates before an election, and encourages its great citizens to vote, and take part in the democratic process.

Then, think about how it must feel to live in Ohio right now.

Imagine watching TV in Cleveland and then seeing every attack ad ever made.  Imagine trying to live in that key election state.  Now, where I live, it is still pretty bad, due to hotly contested local elections.  But the presidential candidates have pretty much give up here, so I’m insulated from the presidential ads.

But Ohio?!?  I can’t even imagine.  Of course, I’m a Browns fan, so I’m trying to picture watching a Browns game (argh!) with attack ads throw in (double argh!).  Do the ads work?  Who knows?  The latest CNN.com poll shows President Obama up by 4%, but you know how that can go.

The only tally that matters is the one on election night.

But this Nobody’s thoughts today are not with the Browns or percentage points.  They’re with the question of civility.  If you’ve seen the debates between President Obama and Governor Romney, you’ve seen a strange mix of incivility and civility.

There is fire and brimstone flying at debate time, then, at the end, the families gather on stage for some hand shaking and pleasantries.  One could almost get the idea they were all going to leave the studio and go for ice cream afterwards.  Can you see that?  The Romneys and the Obamas ordering hot fudge sundaes at a local Dairy Queen and talking about…well…who the heck knows?

Now, as amusing as that image is to ponder, it gets me thinking about the frontiers of civility in our country, and around the world.  Nobody’s view is for the rest of us.  Not the candidates, but the voters.  Not the prime ministers, but their people.

This isn’t just about politics.  It’s about societies.  We tend to vilify people from other places, or candidates from other political persuasions, but have you ever really thought about that?  I mean, really thought about it?  Think of your friends from different cultures or the guy at the side of the road you helped when his tire was flat.  Did you check their politics?  Their backgrounds?  Or did you just help?  People are, generally, people.  And we usually believe that as regular citizens.

The problem is that, quite often, bullies and despots rise to power.  Then, in acts of “leadership,” these rulers create often hateful or vengeful policies, kill their own people, and do all sorts of horrid things, and we lay blame at the feet of their subjects…subjects whom we would gladly help if they crossed our paths in the everyday.

I’m not wise in the ways of politics, but something does not seem right about this.  Yes, we see people marching angrily in the streets supporting some horrific action, but don’t forget–in the great bell curve of humanity, there will always be those who agree with hate and rage.

But what about the rest?  What about the mother clutching her child in a bombed-out apartment, praying that the violence will end, or that her child can grow up someplace safe.  What about the masses who work their fingers to the bone for almost no pay under regimes that don’t care whether they live or die?  What about the student who has to look over her shoulder every day walking to school, lest a would-be policymaker will do more than simply discourage education for her gender?

Civility is courtesy.  Civility is tolerance.  Civility is respect.  Unfortunately, so many times, those who lead do not lead with a civil mindset, but with anger, hate, and rage…with selective agendas and desperation.  The grab for power is ultimate, all else, subordinate.

Now, in America?  We’re lucky.  For all the horribleness of election-season ads, we generally vote in peace and the sun rises in peace the next day.  However, I mention the seriousness of incivility because as the election season comes to a close, I am saddened to see how quickly civil words are replaced by bile.  How easily candidates are able to destroy others’ reputations, families, and good names.  How, without so much as a care, people insult sitting statesmen and stateswomen in an effort to unseat incumbents so they can move into their offices, readjust the chair, and get about the business of reversing the other person’s policies.

As you watch the elections come to a close in our country, remember, this is not an “American” issue.  This has nothing to do with one country or another or one candidate over another.  It’s simply about all of us.

However, we can teach our children differently.  We can use election season not as a time to hit the mute button on ads that most people find annoying.  We can take this opportunity to set a new example.  A civil example.  An “if-you-don’t-have-something-nice-to-say…” example.

Call this Nobody an optimist, but I am hopeful that within a few generations, we can reduce the acidity in the world and promote a more tolerant and civil atmosphere. I believe it starts with us.  It starts with hearing candidates on the issues and ignoring them on the incivility.

It begins with common sense.

But I will say this: if this optimist is wrong, he will certainly be thankful for the mute button.

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