One week ago, I wrote a column that was headlined, “Please tone it down!”
It centered on the small-time Michigan politician who posted comments on his Twitter and Facebook accounts saying the problem of violent college demonstrations could be solved with “another Kent State,” because “one bullet stops a lot of thuggery.”
Fortunately, a sizable portion of the populace found that appalling, and the guy caught so much heat that eventually he resigned.
The whole point of the column was this: Our public discourse continues to grow cruder, nastier and more confrontational. And if we don’t rein in our verbal recklessness, the divisions between us will continue to grow larger and larger.
The country is already more divided than at any time since the Vietnam War. This is not a good place to be — for any of us.
I posted the KSU column on Facebook, as I do with all of my columns. And my plea for civility was promptly answered with a barrage of ugly insults hurled back and forth between readers. Here, in order of appearance, are some of the words people directed at each other:
•?Moron (used twice).
•?Bulls*** (three times).
•?Liar/lies/lying (nine times).
•?Viper (OK, give that person credit for a little creativity).
•?Low IQ (three times).
•?Go to hell.
•?Snowflake (five times).
•?STFU (for “Shut the f*** up”).
And, of course, on the morning the column was published, I received the obligatory phone call from a man who said the National Guard “should have shot more of them.” The only surprise was that the call didn’t arrive until 10:52 a.m.
The good news: I could not have written anything that would have made my point better than the comments written below the column.
A couple of months ago, Psychology Today declared that “incivility is growing like a cancer.”
A major study last year by KRC Research found that 70 percent of us think incivility is at “a crisis level.”
Incivility is damaging in any number of ways beyond plain-old bad vibes.
In sufficient quantities, the resulting stress can lead to health problems.
On the job, it can kill enthusiasm and creativity and even lead to a purposeful drop in productivity (“I’ll show you, you S.O.B.”).
In the classroom, it can cow the free exchange of ideas.
In the political process, it can lead to total withdrawal.
An explosion in the use of social media during the last decade clearly is one of the driving forces behind this. It’s a lot easier to be rude from a distance.
But, sadly, plenty of people are happy to do it in person, too, such as cutting in line at stores and restaurants, yapping on the phone during a movie and generally making public life uncomfortable for those around them.
At this point, that’s all I can think to do.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31