Teri Orr: In our country, and in our community, civility is crumbling
You could blame it all on the current election cycle but that would be incomplete. And too simplistic. The lack of civility is so rampant — from encounters in parking lots to encounters online and in line — that finding reasonable people, speaking in reasonable tones, to reach reasonable solutions is the clear current exception.
We all have rights and expectations. Engaging in screaming our concerns at a local “meet and greet” cocktail party to introduce a candidate during the election cycle is a kind of ugly that saddens me beyond any sentence I can craft to explain it.
And while a councilperson does — in some institutional way — represent all facets of city government professionally — personally and professionally — they must work with their fellow elected and hired officials to enact change — or even enforce — policy. The ability for one councilperson to enact change to create or destroy policy simply doesn’t exist. The arm and leg can’t move unless the brain is on board with that plan.
We are represented — I really cannot say “led” — by a president who has made civility in the executive branch a memory. Countries everywhere on the planet — which have been our allies for decades and even centuries — now shake their heads with sadness at the current state of our State Department.
The example from the highest office in the land is a profane, screaming, red-faced bully, trying in tweets and short eruptions in public to intimidate and embarrass and shame his political opponents here and abroad. In addition — he takes sweeping swipes at entire groups of people he has not personally engaged with. He does this, it appears, because it builds his base of hate. So to punish and cage children at our borders — who are blameless in trying to escape the horrors of their own countries and arrive for shelter in the arms of their parents — as many of our grandparents’ parents did — is a kind of collective shame we carry now — it lacks any soulful consideration of humanity writ large.
And so hope seems at best distant, if not lost.
When that hate and destroying of reputations and life’s work by small-minded, ill-informed, loud people becomes the norm, we see civility eroded to the point folks scream in grocery store parking lots. They pull guns in mountain town neighborhood disputes and our social order has no order. In all my years on the planet there have always been horrible things afoot — wars and a lack of civil rights for people of color and for LGBTQ+ people. Things were plenty ugly. But a veneer of civility and respectability and god-fearing/loving beliefs seemed to keep moving us along. Forward. Wanting change. Wanting … better. Wanting, as President Lincoln so eloquently stated, to turn to “the better angels of our nature.” Politicians took shots at their opponents’ voting records or public actions and we lined up to keep democracy vital. It is not without flaws and a certain level of kabuki theater — acting “as if” — we really are the people we aspire to be.
The current mean-spiritedness — displayed so freely from national politicians — has left mere residents in small towns or small neighborhoods in big cities — frustrated in exactly how governance should be, can be, played out. And how we can and should treat each other. We see and hear such a predominance of hateful rhetoric we feel tossing a few ugly barbs out in a small room of people somehow makes us tall or clever or smart. It does not. It makes us common and mean-spirited. And there are thousands of studies in hundreds of countries that show it also erodes our mental and physical health.
So we are here on the map. A giant X showing our location in a kind of vast wasteland — devoid of decency. A place that is barren in a moonscape way where there are no towers of strength nor hope on the horizon of rugged cliffs or in deep verdant valleys of faith. Right now there is just a colorless desert where decency once grew.
And no, I don’t have some pithy platitude to say I see around corners and it’s gonna work out fine. “Hang on little tomato,” to quote a lyric from a favorite band of mine — or perhaps something else equally as obtuse and clever — yet somehow hopeful.
We have entered the place and time, unique in history, where a 16-year-old girl from a peaceful country across the ocean has landed in North America speaking truth to power and being recognized as an old spirit by the Lakota tribe among others. Perhaps the manifestation of the prophecy of White Buffalo Calf Woman, they say. Perhaps just an old soul in a young body delivering a message with a bluntness attributed to her Asperger’s syndrome and her frequent silences attributed to her selective mutism.
What I know for certain is this — I have never lived in a time in my long life where I had such a difficult time seeing if hope could float. Looking for signs that good people would make brave choices and stand tall. And yes that old adage — the tallest trees catch the most wind — makes me look to our mountains and see the colored leaves falling rapidly. I am watching a local election season turn ugly — not from the candidates against one another — but from constituents feeling so impotent on so many other levels they lash out at good people working hard to make one community a better place to live. We do need to address climate change and the recent successful conference was a powerful call to action. But if civility doesn’t change rapidly, there really is no hope for our planet.
This Sunday I will drive out of The Park with some of my dearest, oldest friends and have brunch at another mountain. We will respectfully disagree as we have done for decades and I expect — as always — we will begin and end with hugs. It is the only civilized thing I can think to do right now.
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