Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two Words Shouted or Three Words Written

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's spontaneous eruption during the president's address to Congress last night left me shaking my head, wondering where our sense of community, of common purpose, of dignity, respect and courtesy have gone.

His shouted two words: "You lie!" were so reflective of our disappearing civility toward those with whom we disagree. We see it 24/7/365 on talk radio, on editorial pages, cable and network news, at town hall meetings and on street corners.

When I peruse the extensive archives of written correspondence that has been received by Crane & Co. over more than 200 years, I see plenty of disagreement: "Dear Messrs. Crane & Co. We are in receipt of your samples of the 25th inst. and find them to be lacking......" The sender might be quite put out, but he is civil, courteous and respectful. The same is true of the letter written by Crane to the aggrieved party.

Sitting down, composing your thoughts, and taking up pen and paper almost unfailingly creates an aura of civility. There's nothing spontaneous about writing someone. One gives thought and weight to their words. And they expect thought and weight to be returned by the recipient.

So, imagine if Joe Wilson had listened respectfully and civilly and gone back to his office and pulled out a piece of his personalized House stationery and instead of shouting two words, he starts by writing three:


Rich Polinski said...

Do you mean civility like Senator Barak Obama showed when he called President Bush a liar in a Senate floor speech? Or like Democrat representatives and senators showed when they booed President Bush repeatedly during a State of the Union address? Or the civility of the White House response to a letter sent to President Obama by Republicans offering to help him forge a health care bill: "no thanks, we have it under control."? Where did "Dear Mr. President" get them or the country?

On the other hand, there are Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others who put pen to paper and expressed themselves in a manner similar to the above mentioned Congressman towards the lawful ruler of their country. Perhaps they should have expressed themselves more civily: Dear King George...

It also doesn't hurt to remember that business correspondance is not the same as political discourse. But even if it were countless examples show that it is just as strident, if not more so, than the most virulent political mudslinging. Perhaps Cranes and its associates are the exception that proves the rule.

Of course, there is a time and place for everything. In that you are correct and your point is well taken. But you might also start the civility ball rolling by being evenhanded in the negative examples you use.

Adoniram said...

I believe Peter was commenting on a current event, rather than taking some partisan stake in popular politics.

Civility knows no ideology, nor can any group lay claim to being more civil than the next. Civility, like respect, is a social construct that is recognized over time and by behavior, not by the conditions of a given moment.