Those days are gone - perhaps forever. If you ever get a chance, rent the movie Network. The Howard Beale show is not some writer's fantasy any longer - it's on every night on the Fox News Network (unfair and imbalanced unless you're a Rushie or a Colterite) or MSNBC (the prison network where murderers and rapists get their time on TV right after the leftist rantings of Keith and Rachel) or CNBC (the resident idiot network where reasonable economic observers mix in with WWF-type hedge fund/option trader whackos and whoever yells the loudest wins).
Today you cannot turn on cable TV or AM radio without witnessing a cacophony of verbal street fights with highly-paid equivalents of the Crips and the Bloods having at each other between commercials for erectile dysfunction drugs and Cash for Clunker deals. We are now witnessing Town Halls on health care reform on TV that resemble the latest Jerry Springer show.
All this is really not new. We Americans have been yelling at each other since the first patriot began ridiculing King George and his hated taxes. It used to be that only the precious few were able to publish their opinions for general consumption. Today everyman/everywoman around the globe is a multimedia self-publisher on Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, and scores of other online vehicles. We are potential reporters-in-the-field for major networks who publish our 1st-hand accounts of disasters replete with cell phone photos - as recently as the helicopter/small plane tragedy this week in the Hudson River in New York.
We are avalanched by advocates. We are overwhelmed by opiners. We are tweeted by twits. The Vox Populi is all around us - every minute of every day. It's loud and getting louder.
Your only recourse is to unlpug whatever device is assaulting your eyes or ears and go read a book.
Yet it doesn't have to be that way. We may never return to the old Uncle Walter days with the tweed suits and the pipes but we can return to the notion of civility in our public discourse. It's all supply and demand of course. If we demand it, the networks may start to supply it.
Don't hold your breath though.
In a world where ultra fighting with mixed marital arts (with lots of blood) is rivaling other mainline sports for popularity on TV here, our society is obviously thirsty for combat of all kinds. ('Our society' is the U.S. I don't presume to talk for other societies. That would be rude.)
It is truly ironic that we have sunk this low because people in the business world with divergent political views nonetheless come together around business issues and solve problems. People in business meetings across the world disagree strongly with each other's views yet somehow the fights stay within the bounds of reasonable discourse. It's probably because there is a high price to be paid for being a corporate 'animal' these days. Yelling and screaming still happens but you might find yourself on the outside looking in if you do it long enough and loud enough.
Can we be civil with each other outside of the work place? Here are a few things we can try.
- Understand the other person's point of view. To paraphrase St. Augustine - if you want to convince someone of something first walk over to where they are standing and see what the view looks like from there.
- Understand that their reality is different from yours. The Gates v. Cambridge Police fiasco drove that point home. Where we've been and what we've seen and how we've lived has a lot to do with how we think, act and react.
- Respect their right to hold their position. That takes patience. In business or politics or marriage or life we stop communciating when we stop respecting each other's right to hold an opinion or position.
- Treasure the triumph of joint problem solving. Whether it's putting a man on the moon or doing the family budget, we all lift each other up when we band together to face adversity or meet a challenge.
- Stop being so damn certain about everything. Every talk show yeller on TV and radio acts like they have it all figured out. Life is still an unfolding mystery and the only being who has it all figured out is the one we will hopefully meet when this life is over.
- Remember that love still beats hate. Remember how you felt when you fell in love for the first time. Exhilarated, giddy and drunk with joy. Now, remember how you felt when you hated for the first time. Not so good, huh?
This is just my opinion. Now the hard part is making it part of your life every day with those you know and love and those you don't know and don't love. I'm going to try it out. Like all the rest of us, I'm a work-in-progress. Just ask my wife.