Thursday, September 6, 2012

Civil discussion--and why Ted Strickland wouldn't be welcome on my Facebook Timeline

So, ever since I started my temporary but planned to be lengthy (till the day after the US Presidential election in November) removal from Facebook posting and commenting, I've been thinking about what I do and don't want to encourage on my timeline when I return to posting.  Of course, people are allowed to have whatever opinions they want to have and are allowed to post on their own timelines whatever they want.  This is American and we value freedom of speech.  This is American and we value freedom of association--or not association.  On the "not association" side, essentially, I've gotten up, walked off, and left the conversation.  I had done this once at a parents meeting at my kids' school when it was clear that there was nothing further to be gained.  I sort fo felt that way on Facebook last Saturday evening.  We also value allowing diversity and heterogeneity of opinions.  

I don't want all my friends to be just like me.  That would, in fact, be pretty dull.  But I do want people who choose to post on my timeline to be like me in one way--that we all agree on the need to maintain civility.  And just because one person shows a little incivility that should not mean that the automatic reaction should be to one up that person arguing back.  Rather, I hope that I (if I ever post anything that even starts down the road toward incivility again) or my friends can just "tone it down".  That is one problem with politics (for which many people have passionate opinions) and asynchronous communication--where people can't "take back" something they wrote so easily and where the opportunity to explain often only comes after others have had a chance to stew over an issue for a while.

When it comes to incivility, I've seen more examples than I care to count recently.  So, let me elaborate a bit.  On the first night of the Democratic national convention, Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, gave a speech in which he said, “If Romney were Santa Claus, he would fire the reindeer and outsource the elves."  I heard this on the news.  No one questioned it.  Maybe one commentator later mentioned that he thought that the governor was a bit over the top.  It is enough that when I get around to it, I plan to change my party affiliation to independent rather than what it always has been as I am plenty dissatisfied with both sides.   

If I were to see someone post Governor Strickland's comments  to my timeline it would make me pretty unhappy and I would cal it out as incivility.  I don't believe that our supposedly serious political debate at a time of national crisis and a national turning point needs to sound like late night comedy.  I don't believe hat insults are necessary.  What I hope is that those who want to lead us can rise above insults, rise above comedy, rise above derision, rise above mockery, and instead of telling me everything about what an opponent will do wrong, will instead tell me what they will do right.  Don't tell me why the glass is half empty if the other person gets elected.  Instead, tell me why it will be half full if you get elected.  And when writing on my timeline, I hope that I and my friends will use similar discretion and think about what is being written.  Rarely will a statement that begins "Everyone who is in category X must think thing Y" absolutely true.  Rarely do I know a person's true and full motivation unless they have told me.  So, I should not be stereotyping.  I should not be presupposing motivations.  I should not be prejudicial.  And I hope that my friends will agree that these types of behaviors really don't help anyone.  

In general, I'm a "glass half full" kind of person.  Ever the optimist.  Ever trying to make the world a place in which more people can be more fulfilled.  It's not that only you or I can be fulfilled, but why not find a way to have more overall fulfillment and then divide it up?  

I noticed that I was so sensitive to potential incivility that it has begun to influence my professional writing.  A colleague asked me to sign on to a response to letters from others about a recent article we published.  The word "foolishly" had been used to describe a policy concern raised by those who had written about our article.  I insisted that the word be taken out and replaced with just stating that we believe that there is a different policy question to be addressed.  There are almost always multiple ways to approach policy evaluations and I didn't think it was out place to judge whether another person's premise was foolish and that such language would not help us to be taken any more seriously.  I also pointed out that to dismiss the ethical argument about what we had written as 'non-existent" rather than simply "kess important than those writing the letters seemed to think it should be" was also not the best decision.

I'm not saying that there are no black and white choices.  Sometimes there are.  But my world has a lot of mixed and jumbled colors that come together to form an interesting tapestry.  One in which I look for the beauty in what is there rather than trying to be critical.  And if and when I am too critical, I need to remember the lessons in civility and use the words I have written here as my guide.  It is not always easy for me to live up to.  But I have a clear idea of the politeness that I will expect to show and hope to find in others when I return to Facebook posting at some point.

Enough of dwelling on civility.  Simple enough to say--I plan to try to work harder to be polite and to maintain politeness in "my little part of the Facebook world".    

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