Saturday, October 25, 2008

Civility

There's a lesson I clearly remember from 4th grade social studies about the value of free speech in America. In my mind's eye I can still see the textbook illustration of two guys with patriot-looking hair and knickers, apparently in heated conversation in a 1700s style Town Square. Next to that picture was another depiction of the same two fellows shaking hands.

It wasn't the illustrations so much as the teacher's comment about them that made such an impression on me. One of the things that makes living in America special, she said, is that here people can express different points of view and not get jailed.

Can disagree about things, and still be friends.

Cut to today. That social studies book is probably out of print, and the point it tried to make seems sadly out of style.

Our local newspaper this morning carried a story about vandalism of presidential candidates' yard signs. It seems in some areas, signs are taking a beating from both sides of the great political divide. Mostly they're just being snatched out of yards - one fellow found his Obama sign folded up and stashed in a sewer, the story reported, and a McCain supporter said she's had to replace 20 signs so far.

But more pernicious, the story noted that several Obama signs have been spray-painted with hammer and sickle symbols or the letters "USSR," while McCain signs have been covered in black or marked with swastikas.

We all have different interpretations of what constitutes the American dream, but the concept represented by those long-ago textbook illustrations - of the freedom to speak your mind and not be bludgeoned (or spray-painted) for it - is high on my list.

From the news article, it appears there are at least a few like-minded citizens out there.

"I would think we could behave more civilly," one was quoted as saying. "Our country is not going to solve any problems with this back-and-forth."

"It breaks my heart to see the country so divided," said another. "Someone's going to win this election, and we're going to have to work together."

Call me gullible, but I refuse to believe either of the candidates themselves personally sanction the hostility their campaigns seem to be engendering. Rally rhetoric and slanderous robo-calls aside, I believe they both are good men, well-intentioned, genuinely want to serve the country and its citizens. They just have different ideas about how to go about it, and they're passionate about their point of view. Just like those two guys duking it out, at least verbally, in my 4th grade social studies textbook.

I also believe that when the votes are counted and a winner is declared, both men will put country first and behave accordingly. They may not exactly shake hands and go off for a beer together, but they'll seek some scrap of common ground to start working on the considerable problems we face as a nation.

They may never be friends. They may not even be particularly cordial. But I think they will be civil.

It's not them I'm worried about. It's the rest of us.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Linda. I agree with you about Obama and McCain, although McCain's (and especially Palin's) supporter can be downright uncivil. We returned from Chicago yesterday to be greeted by the defaced Obama signs on Ward Parkway, and by the absence of our own Obama sign, which apparently was pilfered from our yard when we were gone. I hope Obama's substantial skills at oratory and collaboration can bring these angry souls around when he becomes President Obama. - Patty

Bluestem said...

Maniacs like Fred Phelps, robo-calls, child pornography, and political mud-slinging severely test my tolerance for freedom of speech. But, I still tolerate and work hard to rebut the lies. When I hear my innocent Nebraska students say, "Obama will come around and take our shotguns..." I wonder.