Remember when your mother or your teacher said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?
Remember when you showed respect for your elders and professional business people?
If you had a problem with a company, you wrote a letter explaining your issue and seeking a response. There were no insults. No one actually wrote down profanities. You articulated your issue and ended your correspondence with “Thank you for your time.”
Now, it seems that if people don’t have something nice to say, they go out of their way to find the meanest and most inappropriate way to say it so that the other person feels as terrible as possible.
This election in particular has stirred up strong passions on both sides of the political aisle. And with that, it seems it has also stirred up a renewed permissiveness toward saying whatever nasty thing pops into our heads and to boldly offending others with as much bile as possible.
What happened to manners? What happened to tact? What happened to courtesy? What happened to using the filters that came with our brains?
We witness this kind of thing every day in our industry.
Many newspapers across the country once welcomed the opportunity to provide an online forum for readers to exercise their First Amendment rights. Now, many papers are shutting down their public comment sections because the discourse has become too vicious.
We’ve witnessed it here at our own paper.
We understand that people sometimes get upset with our editorials. But we try to articulate positions based on our own research, perspective and experiences, and perhaps provide some enlightenment on an issue. None of what we write is meant to be taken personally by others.
But the incivility that people express to convey their disagreement recently has reached a level of nastiness and vulgarity rarely seen, even by seasoned professionals in a business where taking criticism is part of the job description.
cases in point
A couple of recent examples jump to mind.
Regarding our recent editorial on the election protesters, for instance, someone emailed, “With all due respect, f—- your fascist bullying b—-sh— about discouraging demonstrators.”
Two profanities in one, two-sentence email? And did the writer believe that starting the sentence with “With all due respect” negated every inappropriate thing that was written afterward?
Another person told an editor to his face that the same editorial, with which he strongly disagreed, was “a piece of sh—.”
One response that really stood out this election season was a letter, hand-written on nice stationery, disagreeing with our endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
“I only wish that you had put Crooked Hilary’s (sic) picture and endorsement on softer paper so when I have my ‘morning movement,’ I could wipe my Gazette opinion page editor with it.”
Ouch. It’s bad enough that someone actually thought this was an appropriate comment to write to a newspaper. But the writer actually took the time and effort to track down a piece of stationery, put pen to paper, put the note in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it to us. This wasn’t a drunken late-night tweet that someone might later regret. It was deliberate and thought-out, and by an adult old enough to prefer stationery over email.
The incivility is everywhere.
One female candidate for political office in our area reportedly complained that when she campaigned door-to-door, she was met more than once with hurtful, sexist comments. And you wonder why decent people are reluctant to run for office.
fuel for bullying
Bullying, especially in schools, has always been with us. But social media has fueled it and popularized it to the point where kids already navigating the difficulties of puberty, gender identity issues, self-esteem problems and depression commit suicide because of the abuse they’re forced to take.
Have we gotten so mean-spirited as a society that we no longer care who gets hurt or offended by what we say to one another?
One of the late-night talk shows, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” even has a segment called “Mean Tweets,” in which celebrities and politicians who are the subjects of nasty tweets read them on the air. It’s a way for the targets to humorously dispatch the nasty commenters and poke fun at themselves.
But isn’t it disturbing that we have so many individuals insulting people they don’t even know that it becomes a regular feature on a talk show? President Obama has been on it twice.
If you express an opinion on Facebook or Twitter that’s contrary to another’s, look out. You’re likely to be met not just with an opposing viewpoint, but with name-calling and profanity. It’s easy to get insulted and to respond in kind, which drags down the level of the conversation even further.
In fact, it’s Twitter’s failure to address concerns about harassment and abuse that factored into its inability to attract buyers for its recent sale. Finally, the company is making changes to allow users to block certain offensive words or entire conversations.
We’ve even been guilty of sinking into the fray. In that editorial on the protesters that drew so much vulgar candor, we agreed with Rudy Giuiliani’s characterization of the protesters as “spoiled cry-babies” and said the protesters looked “downright dumb.” How does that demonstrate and promote respectful disagreement with others? It doesn’t. We promise, it won’t happen again.
lots of excuses
There are all kinds of excuses for the decline in civility. We’re more stressed out by the demands of work and family and the economy. Electronic communications and social media allow us to convey our thoughts without fear of retribution. We’re less religious. Our children lack solid parental guidance because of so many divorces.
But those are just excuses. People who lived through the Depression or World War II were certainly under stress and they didn’t insult one another so openly and vigorously. And lots of people who had rough childhoods aren’t mean to others. Lots of atheists and agnostics are perfectly nice people.
We’re all in control of what we say. We ourselves have the power to offend and, therefore, the power to not offend. We alone are responsible for this state of incivility, and we alone can stop it by taking control of ourselves.
We’re not talking about everyone holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” We know the world is a rough-and-tumble place, and that people have strong opinions that they feel they need to share.
But wouldn’t it be a better world if we could all feel comfortable disagreeing with one another without fear of being insulted? Wouldn’t it be better if we each didn’t go out of our way to make someone feel terrible just because we can? Don’t we want to live in a world, and raise our children in a world where we’re all just nicer to one another?
Maybe the trend toward kindness will catch on, just as the trend toward nastiness has. It’s worth a shot, right?
We’re sure there are people who will poke holes in this editorial, deride it for being pollyanna-ish and naive. And if you feel that way, please do let us know. We welcome respectful disagreement and constructive criticism.
But if you feel the urge to compare the writer to a derriere in need of wiping, with all due respect, please keep it to yourself.