Submitted by William Elder.
What the hell are you people talking about? Shut up! I am trying to watch my show.
Yes, I am right— are you too stupid to see it?
No, I can see quite clearly. How dumb are you?
These are but a sampling of contemporary reactions to a question central to the survival of American democracy into the 21st Century. Winston Churchill delivered himself of a quote— one of many, many more. Among the many of us who remember who Churchill was and what he stood for is a quote that might surprise hearing it in his mouth: “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” British, of course, then. But American, without doubt, now.
So, we are all not as smart as we all think we are, regardless of our vaunted rights. Good point to start from. At least, not smart enough to just open our yaps whenever we feel like it, to say whatever we want to say, regardless of what we say, how we say it, without regard to what effect it will have on our fellow citizens and what they may have to say in return. Civility must be a factor in our assertions of free speech— not a denying one, but an important modifying one. We must see that it is to our mutual advantage to try and find a way to agree to disagree short of killing each other. Even with questions so hot they have come to be boiled down to a simplistic yes or no, nor even when murderous emotions inject miasma into the very air we breathe— and argue with. Civility is a very old, very important notion among we social creatures, we humans, with applications in our busy interlaced lives no less important than clean air is. The notion we need to constantly remind ourselves of, and practice daily, is to be thoughtful of each other. The speed our tongues can travel, and the twisted paths they explore, must be matched by the speed and our willingness to rein them in. That is no less so with modern horsepower than than it was with a horse and buggy. Civility is a venerable notion but a viable, important one still.
When our emotions erupt out of our mouths like fireworks, enjoy them for their sparkle, sure, but remember them as unsustainable explosions, soon extinguished, soon forgotten. Don’t linger with a burnt taste in your mouth. Know it for the poison it is. Spit incivility out. Let it die in peace.
Where once was a burnt night sky, full of sparks and bangs, burns now a sky of real stars. Calmness settles in, a deep nighttime before a new morning. Birds know it, squirrels know it— a new season nudges up to us. Welcome it in. After all the darkness we have endured, have we not the need for joy, the courage to embrace hope and all its promises with open arms? Open our tired selves to tomorrow? I, for one, plan to wipe winter’s leaky nose, cough a time or two more, and join all my neighbors in trying to be the first to spot a new crocus popping up! Pay Beethoven’s Ode To Joy for up-lift. Whistle it for fun.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.