When did we start being so mean?
I remember in the 1970s when a woman scowled at me for opening the door for her, admonishing me for assuming she couldn’t do it herself. I thought that marked the period in our history when assertiveness morphed into meanness, and blamed it on women’s lib for putting a wooden stake in the heart of chivalry.
Then I blamed Archie Bunker of All in the Family fame. He regularly called his wife “Dingbat” and his Polish son-in-law “Meathead.” Of course that was the point – to cast a spotlight on racism, sexism, blue collar-ism and the pitfalls of limited education, using humor and extremism as its tools and TV as its vehicle.
But that didn’t fit, either, because as a very young product of the 50s, I used to think it was hilarious that the Honeymooners Ralph Kramden was going to send his wife Alice to the moon, wildly winding up his fist.
That is until I realized that his threats gave tacit permission to use domestic violence as a tool to keep women at bay, guised as humor typical in a loving relationship.
Today, tempers are short, the world is in chaos and graciousness has been dying a slow, agonizing death. Have you noticed it takes less than the blink of a gnat’s eye for a driver to honk because you didn’t move just as the light changed? Or how quickly someone is to give the middle finger salute when some minute injustice is inflicted, real or imagined?
When did it become acceptable behavior for a congressman to yell at the President, “You Lie!” in the middle of a “State of the Union” speech with cameras rolling and a nation watching? At what point in time did we transition from “agreeing to disagree” to “no room to compromise?” Exactly where is that Alamo “line in the sand” when we must decide to turn the other cheek or stand up and fight? My friend did the right thing recently when a cranky lady flipped her off for not leaving the stop sign quickly enough. I know my friend could have taken the offender, verbally or in a wrestling match, but she smiled and kept moving. Wise woman.
Perhaps the answer simply lies in time – how quick we are to respond without thinking first. Will I regret this later? Will I want to take it back even as the vitriol or clever put-down barely escapes my snarled lips? Obviously a charging, rabid bull elk is going to get my full attention quickly, especially if my .30-06 is in hand. Never mind the PETA implications, as survival is key.
But if someone tailgates me in heavy traffic, maybe it is sufficient to take a deep breath and think about a reasoned response, like moving over so the PITA can pass unobstructed. Maybe his wife is in labor and he is trying to get to the hospital to assist in the birth of his first child? Perhaps he is an idiot on meth with a handgun in his lap. Let it go.
Recently, attention has been brought to the hidden veil of impersonal communication prevalent in social media. It is easy to attack someone’s political views as long as they are in El Paso and can’t see you behind the Facebook mask. You can be a Twittering twit as long as no one deciphers your clever code name, 150-IQ-How bout u. Social media can be fun, except when it isn’t and hurts.
In America, Oregon and Silverton, we have to get back to what makes us unique – accepting of divergent viewpoints and tolerance in most things from religion to politics. I firmly believe God loves everyone and is probably apolitical or at the least loves blue states and red states equally. Let’s get back to a sense of graciousness and good taste rather than going for the jugular vein when someone hurts your feelings.
I believe there are five crucial things we all can do in our quest to be civil once again:
• Be gracious. Not every slight needs a bullhorn or bullwhip response. Some can even be ignored. When your antagonist does break down and utters the magic words, “I’m sorry,” the correct response is not “You should be, you #!@*@!#&*.” A simple thank you might suffice.
• Be tolerant. Not everyone thinks like you, and that’s OK. If we were all the same, how incredibly dull life would be. High blood pressure might be a non-issue, but how boring a world. It is true that we have far more in common than differences. That is where we can survive and thrive. Calling Mormonism a “cult” to help your own candidate get elected not only insults some of the finest people I know, it is amazingly intolerant, ignorant and mean.
• Listen respectfully. Two ears and one mouth are for a reason. “I understand your point” is a great validating statement. It doesn’t mean you agree; only that you heard what the person was saying rather than tuning out the speaker while you were deciding which words spoken or bones broken would be most incapacitating to the evil-doer.
• Do your homework. Don’t fall for sound bites. Try to understand both sides of an argument and reason with facts more, emotion less. Passion is good, but passion without a reasonable command of the issues is often fruitless. Being a vegan is just fine, but trying to convert a rancher whose livelihood is raising Angus beef in Prineville? Is forcing a small number of people into some form of health insurance or face a fine really a “government takeover” of the health care industry? Don’t we do that with auto insurance?
• Be fair. No two words are harder to speak or more powerful when they are spoken than, “I’m sorry.” Note there are only two words, not “I’m sorry but….” We need to be validated as human beings. Like life, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Lose gracefully when the opportunity presents itself.
I am going to try hard to do my part. Will you?