In short, any reasonable definition of civility must recognize that there are many different interests which divide an increasingly diverse society, a society that produces an endless series of confrontations over difficult moral and distributional issues. We all need to realize that other thoughtful and caring people have different and opposing views on how to best address these complex problems. Constructive and open debate needs to focus on solutions which have the greatest chance of success, not upon personal attacks which often include a distortion of the facts, name calling and a low blow leveled by one adversary against another.
By not demanding more civil and factual behavior from our leaders as they address the compelling interests of the day, we ultimately repeat what we hear and the actions we see to further distort comments. The end result is a likely increase in the probability that any solution adopted is doomed for failure, having been constructed on inaccurate information. Fair, open and honest discussion and debate is essential to our democratic state, but when the escalation of distortion, closed-minded delay tactics and mutual mistrust enter the equation, all chances of a satisfactory resolution are lost.
Now we have powerful lobbying efforts by well-funded and substantially positioned power brokers and one-sided, self-interested watchdog organizations like today’s media adding to the noise. It’s no wonder common sense and civility have become a lost means of resolving the issues that are widening the divide among us. We simply can’t continue to justify the means used by our leaders and ourselves if we seek to address the root cause of the issues we face. Despite all the new technological information outlets available to us today, seeking the real truth and trying to avoid becoming complicit parties to pursue selfish objectives is almost impossible. The distortion of truth and lack of civil behavior has become so firmly rooted in our society that it is now our way of life.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.