Editor’s Note—April 2016

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Where has all the civility gone?

by Michael Hamline, Editor / Published April 2016

If you have been watching (or reading summaries of) any of the presidential primary debates, particularly those by the Republican candidates, there has been a clear lack of civility in the debates. Civility, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior.” It applies to one’s speech as well. Clearly, according to the aforementioned definition, we have not witnessed civil discussion in many of the presidential debates.

However, I think what is going on in those debates is really a reflection of the lack of civility that is going on in our society as a whole. Have you read through the “Comments” section on a news website or on a blog post where someone is providing their opinion on immigration, gun control, politics, or climate change? I rest my case. The comments can get downright crude and nasty and often end up personally attacking the person (rather than their positions) supporting a side with which you disagree.

Another example where a lack of civility shows up is on the road. We even have a term for it “road rage.” Not that long ago, my wife served on a jury where a man was on trial for shooting and killing another man in a road rage incident. The basic facts, as I understood them, were the two men nearly got into a wreck. Rather than being thankful that they didn’t wreck and going their separate ways, angry words were exchanged. Eventually, one man exited his car and approached the other vehicle. The person in this second vehicle said he felt threatened at this point and pulled out a gun and shot the man approaching him.

So, what’s my point? It is simply that a return to civility in our speech and behavior needs to take place. This does not mean we can’t disagree on issues and ideas, even strongly. And I would even argue that anger can be an appropriate response in many cases, though not to the point it leads to verbally attacking the individual or physically hurting someone. However, civility does mean that we truly listen to those with whom we disagree and respond reasonably and politely to them. And you and I need to lead the way in restoring civility and not wait for our current group of political leaders to do it.

Michael Hamline
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