Thanks to those who participated in Civility Day, a little social experiment designed solely to bring back some sanity to our interactions with each other.
What have we learned from this?
Just 171 citizens joined us in our endeavor. It’s not a lot. It’s an intro poly sci course at a Big Ten University. But for all of you who joined, and all of you who thought about it, I hope it brought you a little solace. And, at least as far as I’m concerned, I thought twice before engaging in the rancor of political discourse, both online and in actual real social situations.
Civility Day certainly wasn’t a protest. As a proud member of Gen X, I protest protests. They’re so…Boomer. I was concerned for a time that this effort might smack of being either too touchy-feely, and then I fretted that it was too second-grade-pledge-of-allegiance. Still, that didn’t stop a scant few from tagging it as appeasement of the other side. So I guess, Goldilocks, it was just right.
I must confess that other than one instance, I really didn’t do what I had prescribed. As a Midwesterner who’s gun-shy about confrontation, I found even a polite admonishment of “Let’s be civil” hard to enact. And yes, when you tell someone to be civil, you immediately take on the role of 19th Century school marm chastising Little Johnny for putting Peg’s pigtails in the inkwell.
But I think in retrospect, Civility Day had a greater impact.
Many friends commented to me about it, curious about this quietly audacious effort.
Quite incidentally, one of my favorite radio programs, This American Life, right before the election devoted an entire hour to the prospect of people who have to hide their political affiliations and who lost friendships over their different political leanings. So was Civility Day just a cog in a growing Zeitgeist of reaction against divisiveness?
For me, this exercise in common decency, at long last, compares to driving during rush hour. Lots of people dart in and out, cut you off, wander into your lane, piss you off. I admit it—I’m prone to feeling road rage on occasion. I’ve learned that I can’t correct someone’s bad driving on the road, but I just need to get out of their way for when they actually do plow right into another car. But if I can just relax, be in the moment of the drive home, and expect people to be jerks, I actually can enjoy the trip. And if someone honks or acts rudely, I’ve replaced a protruding middle finger with a nice parade wave.
It’s very Zen. You should try it.
The same is true for this assault online. I’m getting too old to still be idealistic, I guess. But I still can’t help think that if I try to treat people better in the face of impoliteness, beastliness, and insecurity, I’ll eventually change them.
But I wax poetic like Chris in the Morning on KBER.
Maybe it’s enough to just change myself.
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-”God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.