Special counsel Joseph Welch ended the McCarthy era with the famous words, “Have you no sense of decency?”
Martha is a flight attendant and often gets unwanted attention. In the last few days, though, some of the attentions were not caddish, but nasty ones from people who know she is conservative. She shared with me some of what had happened, and asked what we do next.
I recommended plain and simple kindness. Respect for the next person does far more to win hearts and minds than anything else. If every person who lashed out had to volunteer with abused children, they might just learn that aggressive tactics rarely work to win a soul. Too many people yell from their self-righteous bubbles, unable and unwilling to understand what anyone else is saying. Certainly, one must stand up against injustice, corruption, and so on. But this … this is mostly ranting into echo chambers. Civilized discussion can lead to progress.
This may be the naïve response of someone whose focus in life is teaching children, working with abused and abandoned children, and for whom family is far more important than a career … but is simple civility truly out of reach? I have experienced violence, and it is not the solution many think it is.
Over the summer a Facebook exchange between two ladies I highly respect went south when one of them used the terms “disgusting, idiotic” — when the other lady was just about ready to acknowledge that her mind was being changed. When we spoke in person she said, “I saw her point. I was beginning to think that there was something to what she said, but when she spoke like that, it just turned me off so much, it just made me go back to my own position.”
A week later, I saw her again, and she remarked that having been given the time and space, she decided the other woman was right. However, she had also lost respect for her. “Yeah, I think I get her point now. It’s logical, and it makes sense. I spent some time looking it up. But I can’t look at her the same way again. I know it’s bad, but it’s just not the same anymore, and I really looked up to her before.”
That woman who flew off the handle and used (what some might even call mild) invective is one of the most well-educated and articulate women I know, and I still admire her greatly for what she has done in her life, and for her wisdom. But she lost several souls that day, perhaps in a thoughtless moment she’s regretted since. Only one commenter eventually came to see that she was indeed right, but no longer respected her, and the rest told me they weren’t ready to engage with her again.
On page after page, intelligent, reasonable human beings turn nasty, threaten to block people or remove their messages. Unless people actively want division and war, this needs to change.
I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. No one side is absolutely in the right, and both sides needs the others to challenge and correct them. Both sides have done and said things that are disgraceful. Sources on both sides have been painfully wrong and biased.
The solution will not come by running away to form more echo chambers. It will come from places that teach people to think but also to respect others who disagree and to argue civilly with them. Places like Magdalen College, St. Thomas More, University of Dallas, Hillsdale College, Princeton (and the Madison program), Notre Dame, Patrick Henry College, Christendom, St. John’s, CUA.
The answers will come from families who raise their children to know the truth and to respond in civility. The answers come from us, when we use the tools in our power and even ask, when we have to, “Have you no sense of decency?” in a charitable manner.
A Good Country
Yesterday I worked with a young woman. She was abused from the age of four, when she started to work to help support her family. Eventually, she helped her mother and siblings escape a brutally abusive step-father, and worked to help support the family. She is only nineteen, but has lost everything many take for granted, and is still determined to take her lot in life and work through it to help make sure that her mother does not have to suffer again. “I know that in this country it may be hard, but I can do it.”
We have a country that, for all her faults, is a good country. We are destroying it and ourselves not just with appalling actions and behaviors, but with hateful and angry words. Can we reset and simply start by being kind to others with whom we disagree, others we may think very, very wrong? That may be the hardest thing we have to do that day, but possibly the most valuable.
After that, we can figure out how to fix the very real problems we face.
Peach Smith is a Catholic, a wife, a mother, and a classical educator who teaches at Koinonia and Sacred Heart Academies in New Jersey. Her previous article was Every Woman Should Have a Blowtorch.