Last night, I was “treated,” if that’s the word, to a blog where someone related their story about an argument that they got into at a Starbucks. He talked about how he met people who were repeating patently false rumors about the president, and how he got fed up, got in those person’s faces, and demanded that they provide proof of their claims, which, of course, they couldn’t. I admired his pluck and determination, if not exactly his choice of words, in confronting such hurtful falsehoods, uttered, as they were, in a public place. I also felt good about the responses he received, both from the other people in the immediate vicinity and the commentators on the blog. It got me so fired up that, when I saw someone on my Facebook page was making similar comments, I got all fired up and composed a similar response. Shortly after I posted that response, I apologized to all concerned. As I told the other guys, it’s not good to get upset over the fabrications of someone who makes his or her living deliberately making people upset with each other. Evidently, that explanation only made things worse, since, to them, it was a direct attack on someone in whom they have come to an almost religious, cult-like, faith. After all, these people excel on making us angry by telling us what they think we want to hear, and they egg us on to, as they do, “score points” in a never-ending argument. Telling people that they are repeating another person’s lies, or forcing them to provide some sort of proof, or resort to applying logic, is, in this venue, the worst of insults.
I joined a group called the Coffee Party last spring. It’s not that I want to get all political or anything, so much as they passed two important tests for me. First, they claim that they exist to bring civility back into the political process, where they take all the punditry and fighting out of things and get back to just trying to help people speak honestly and openly to each other. Second, Glenn Hinson joined before I did, and I’ll enthusiastically follow any cause that he would willingly join. In occasionally dropping by to see what they’re talking about, I took note of the expected commitment to being honest and fair in our conversations, and not picking a fight for the sake of picking a fight.
So, it is in that sense that I have finally decided to refuse. I refuse to let people deliberately lie and engage in character assassination in my presence, or repeat the manufactured lies that they have heard from whatever professional provocateur or terrorist they are listening to. If they do so, I will challenge what they say. In doing so, however, I also refuse to sink to the level of personal attacks, angry speech, manufactured hatred, or other divisive tactics that seem to be the current standard of discourse promoted by such people. I will no longer play that game. I refuse.
I’m no better than anyone else at this, but for months now, I have been blogging and complaining about the fact that our society seems to have lost the traditional virtues of civility, honesty, integrity, and tolerance. Recognizing that I’m going to fail from time to time, I realize that we’re not going to get such things back by shaking our fists at each other or complaining that our world has passed us by. Instead, it’s going to take a determination from each of us that it is important to return to a vision of humanity that involves decency and compassion, rather than rapaciousness and exploitation. I refuse to settle for anything less.