There was a time when the poisonous rhetoric of politics was limited to national political discourse over highly emotionally charged issues such as abortion, immigration, welfare, equal rights, war and other volatile issues that polarized our nation.
Today, however, it seems to be commonplace for the broadcast media, state government, local government and even private homeowners associations and some non-profit boards to engage in such vitriolic behavior- which sadly reflects on the rapid deterioration of basic civility in our society overall.
I am distraught that many of my fellow citizens are losing the ability to discuss anything that divides us with any inkling
Civility to me means treating people with respect, being courteous and polite to others and listening to others with genuine and sincere consideration, even if you don’t agree with them. Incivility, on the other hand, means being rude for rudeness sake, leveling personal character attacks, talking much louder than necessary, and not respectfully listening to other points of view.
What distinguishes civility from incivility is as clear to me as the difference between black and white, day and night, and a nice and not-so-nice person.
Civility is an indispensable component to maintaining a democracy such as ours, since we live in a pluralistic and very diverse society with different cultural norms, religious beliefs and perspectives on life in general.
In a democracy, while it is OK to recognize and acknowledge these differences, for an effective, meaningful and enduring democracy we must work on being civil with each other so we can understand each other better, which will help us determine where there is room to reach consensus on resolving certain issues that divide us so that we can live peacefully and happily together in our communities.
Resorting to uncivil behavior, particularly in a public setting, whether on the dais or from the floor by a member of the public is counterproductive in the context of the democratic decision-making process. Uncivil behavior gets in the way of learning the truth, learning about good and workable ideas, learning about the needs of others and learning how
to contribute in “alternative” positive ways to making our communities better places to live, work and play.
Such uncivil behavior not only closes the mind of the “not-so-nice” person, but it also shuts down the minds and ears of those decent people who are the targets of the uncivil behavior simply as an automatic defense mechanism against the pain and distress of being unfairly ridiculed and disrespected in a public setting.
The public decision-making arena should be a forum for temperate, thoughtful and intelligent dialogue and debate with the objective of finding common ground on matters of public interest. This means that tolerance for opposing views is crucial. which requires the ability to treat others with respect, the ability to be courteous and polite to others and the ability to listen to others with sincere consideration.
In essence, public discourse in any public setting should be
a bastion of civility which dictates that everyone involved -decision- makers and members of the public- display genuine respect for those who have positions with which they may disagree with.
So, while every citizen may have a Constitutional right to speak their minds (with some exceptions), we should all remember that “incivility” is not a constitutional right, but rather it is simply a choice- and an easy one at that. Be nice instead.
By: Steven B. Quintanilla
President, Law Offices of Quintanilla & Associates
Source of publication: The Desert Sun Newspaper
This article will appear in the May issue of the View in our Resident Column.