Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Happend to Civility?

Here’s a not entirely hypothetical situation I’d like to discuss.
Suppose a friend came over to your house unannounced. You invite them in and they begin to tell you their views on what is wrong with everything from your politics to how to you raise your children. They quote celebrities and politicians to back up their position. You listen politely for a while. Then when they are finished you attempt to point out a few misquotations and other errors in the facts they presented to you. They then get insulted and react as if you are personally attacking them. They make one last speech and storm out of your house telling you that they never want to hear from you again.
The above example is an amalgam of several different events that have actually happened to me in the last couple months. It sounds absurd doesn’t it? But they really happened, several times. If this had happened to you how would you feel? Suppose this was a beloved family member, who you had great respect for, you just disagreed on politics? In my situation each time I just sat there stunned. Where did that come from? Why did they bring this to me?
Now I have concealed one small detail until now. These encounters didn’t happen in person. They happened via email. Yet other than that the details are correct. Why does the fact that their message came via an email excuse them the civility they might have granted me in person? Is it really so all or nothing with some people? What has happened to this world that we are so readily willing to cut all ties with people because we don’t march in lock step with them? Is their value as a person so contingent upon me accepting the premises of the email that they mass forwarded to everybody in their address book?
I share this because I am truly saddened. There are people that I have known for decades who have abandoned having any relationship with me because we disagree. What happened to having a civil disagreement? In many of my cases I didn’t even get around to stating my opinion. I was just correcting the facts they presented. It doesn’t bother me that we disagree on some points. But why can’t we discuss the issue civilly?
In stark contrast to these examples I do have a few close friends with whom I frequently disagree. I enjoy discussing things with them. I know that neither one of us is likely to have a complete change of opinion but the conversation is stimulating. And I believe that we are willing to accept when our opinions are based on flawed data and reconsider. I want to thank these friends for accepting me as one who is still looking for answers. I enjoy the search. I hope I never get so many answers that I no longer need the search. And I hope that no matter how much we may disagree you will still walk away knowing that I still value you as a person.


  1. I've been fortunate enough in my wanderings that I've only had this type of thing happen with any degree of consistency in the chat rooms.

    The real world I've been pretty careful about listening and responding to people who happen to have a different point of view about something from me.

    Sometimes it is tempting to lash out at someone via the e-mail or the blog over some perceived slight or differenct of opinion, but to do so really brings one down to the level of a teenager.

    And in this day and age, do we really want to develop the reputation of a self-centered teenager?

  2. That's weird. Of course I like a healthy debate and probably wouldn't get into an email exchange of this sort without it being someone I knew I could keep up their end in a friendly way. I had one guy at the last school I worked in send me a couple of far-right wing links and asking me what I thought about them (knowing full well I'd hate them) but was surprised at my balanced rebuttal and we went on like that for quite a while. Same thing with a friend in grad school. He was pretty right wing but open to discussion and claimed to be the most liberal guy at the school he worked in (further north in GA) and while he would also try to bait me we'd end up having more lengthy and balanced email exchanges.

    Of course neither of those guys were already friends of mine so maybe that's the difference. And it may have to do with how far apart these beliefs were. I have friends who agree on many things with me, but they'll have one wacky alt. med belief or something that we either joke about or I just ignore. But some things might be just too far. I couldn't see spending much time with someone that was becoming a die-hard cultist of some sort. And I'd probably just cut all ties to anyone who went all racist or something.

    But yeah. Hard to imagine that coming up in an email exchange like you describe. People are weird. Doubt we'll ever figure them out...

  3. I remember you were very anti-Darwin. I think the spirit of man entering our primate bodies somewhere along the physical evolution scale is possible even if religion plays a part. And the "to God, a thousand years is but one day" precept today's dating methods seem all the more feesible. But like you were saying on your blog, that's no reason for friends or family to storm out of a room. I think tomoatoes cure hangovers, another person may not. For them to storm out of a room in defiance just shows a hormone imbalance:)

  4. Above: talking about Bronowski's The Ascent of Man from this (!/ilsalunte)

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  6. I confess you have me at a disadvantage. You seem to know who I am and what I used to believe, but I don't know who you are.
    That being said I don't recall ever being "anti-Darwin".