Monday, March 5, 2012

Thoughts on Accuracy and Civility in Public Discourse

Is it too much to ask, or can we at least stipulate that:

...not everyone who believes that traditional marriage between a man and a woman deserves different legal status than a same-sex marriage is a homophobe?
...and not everyone who believes in allowing states to rule on same-sex marriage is a godless liberal?

...not everyone who suggests causes for racial disparity in school test results is a racist?
...and not everyone who fights for racial equality is looking for a handout?

...not every person who thinks nostalgically about the 1950s is a Neanderthal?
...and not every person with a college degree is enlightened?

...not everyone who owns a gun is a murderer?
...and not everyone who commits a crime is beyond redemption?

...not every single woman who uses birth control is a slut?
...not every woman who doesn't believe in premarital sex is a puritan?

...not everyone who drives a big car is against the environment?
...and not everyone who owns a hybrid vehicle is prudent?

...not everyone who doesn't live in Washington, DC, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles or San Francisco is uninformed?
...and not everyone in the so-called "elite" is elitist?

...not everyone who doesn't go to church is a secularist?
...and not everyone who does go to church is a fundamentalist?

...not everyone who wants to see the Social Security and Medicare programs re-vamped to address the future is an ageist?
...not everyone who wants to see these programs continue to serve the elderly favors government dependence?

Categorizing people is necessary for different reasons, some logical, some nefarious.  But I don't believe it is entirely avoidable.  So it stands to reason that not all members of all categories of people are right or wrong, top dog or disadvantaged, useful or wasteful, deliberate or mindless, helpful or harmful.  Categories, which lead to "-ism-speak" are basically just organizational tools.  I want to be accurate and precise when describing items, be they groups of people or spring dresses.  I use size, color, accessories and other descriptive terms to make myself understood, in either case.  That's the purpose of language - to make oneself understood.  So why do I have to police my own speech so carefully these days?

Since when did identifying a group and offering a fitting description become so politically incorrect and divisive?  Can we not even discuss the problems of people and the groups they belong to without courting hatred from those who hold differing opinions?

When we paint those who hold opinions different from our own with the broad brush of "-ist" and "-ism," we waste valuable time and energy in judgement, time and energy that are better spent on analysis and problem-solving.  When problem-solvers attempt to find answers by evaluating and labeling the people they are trying to help, that doesn't mean they judge those groups they've created names for as lesser in value, importance or worth.

During this last week, I've been called a racist, an ageist, anti-women's rights and an elitist.  Not directly, mind you, but by implication.  If I complain about the language in a hip-hop song, I'm a racist.  If I suggest that Social Security is too large a drain on our economy than the country can sustain, I'm an ageist.  If I donate money to an organization that promotes seeing though an unplanned pregnancy, I'm against women's rights.  If my husband and I are both college graduates, we are elitists who want to de-fund all entitlement programs.  And if you don't believe me, read the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, Boston Globe and Atlanta Journal from the last few weeks. 

Calling people names takes anger, maybe even rage.  Being called names gets blood boiling.  In both instances, people are being swayed by rhetoric - perhaps their own, perhaps that of someone else.

Look around you.  Look around your neighborhood.  Look at our country, all that we have, all that we stand for.  There is so much good here, so much to be thankful for.  Compared to anywhere in the known universe, we are the most blessed civilization in human history.  If we want that to continue to be the case, we must think with our brains, and avoid being dragged into the war of words and name-calling that the media wants us to react to.

It's an election year, the economy is in a barely-noticeable recovery, food and gas prices are getting uncomfortably high and one of our old middle-east foes is playing cat-and-mouse over weapons.  Sound familiar?  It should, because it has happened this way several times before, and the trumpets blared for civil unrest on past occasions, too.

Don't be misled.  Don't let your boiling blood cause you to react irrationally.  That's what they want.  It sells more papers, gets more website hits, brings on more advertisers.  But we have to ignore the call to arms, and instead heed the call to think.

Odds are, your fellow man doesn't hate you any more than you hate him.  If you are a decent human being, those are pretty good odds.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, so I've only read this and one other of your blogs some time back. Rich raves about your polite ravings. I need to read a few more.
    I was nourished by the your call for peace, warmed by the efforts towards brotherly love and reassured about how fortunate we are.

    Great Share!!! <3 <3 <3

    Wow, I just realized people can comment anonymously. Geez