Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Civil Discourse

I've been writing a variation of this post for some time now--since, actually, the 2008 Presidential Election started getting loud, which was during the Primaries, as I recall. I've thought it so often that I had to go through past posts to make sure I haven't said it all before. The truth is, I have. I've written bits and pieces of it in my Tweets and my Comments on other's blogs and as red-starred warnings on my own blog. Most people have heard me; some, the tone deaf and determined, have not.

There is a nastiness abroad that is passing for "political discourse." It is polluting the very debates we need to be having in order to make an informed decision on election day. Disagreement is when you proffer the opinion, "I beg to differ and for this or that or the other reason." Disagreement is not when you're larding your comments with sarcasm, whipping out your wit as if you were auditioning for Counterpoint. I don't care if you're on the left or the right: intelligent people make thoughtful debaters. They use reason to convince, not condescension to score points. They listen and respond, rather than waiting till the other person finishes to throw a zinger or two.

You like McCain; I like Obama...or, as was once the case, you like Obama and I like Hillary. There, we've said it, smiled and gotten on to other topics, good will and friendship intact. We have not loaded our commentary with heavy sarcasm. We have not called each other names or even implied that one of us is an idiot to not believe what the other does.

I cannot stand that hostile "you dumb fuck" tone of so much of what's being written these days. Grace D calls me the Manners Narc, because I have on more than one occasion called someone to task for slamming another's ideas in a less than collegial way. I accept the title, wear it somewhat proudly even. I learned the so-called art of debate at the dinner table with my father. It was our entertainment, but it came with certain rules: Don't get angry and don't get personal.

I work really hard to keep those rules in my discussions these days. You see, I have an absolutely vicious tongue which, should I unleash it, could flay the skin off a lizard. I know that. I've seen it happen in the past. So it's a matter of integrity, of honesty to me that I not use my ability to batter someone with my words to win a debate. And because I work so hard to keep my discourse civil, I expect others to do the same.

When they don't, I absolutely do think less of them.

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