Civility Linkblogging: Traffic, Facebook, and More on Tom Schweich

Civility Linkblogging
A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week’s edition of civility linkblogging is somewhat eclectic. It includes a follow-up to last week’s post about the suicide of Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich. But it also includes an article about parenting that reflects on how to teach children about dealing with incivility. It includes some advice about Facebook. And it includes a reflection on the relative success of civility and community-mindedness in San Diego, California.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Practicing Civility in an Uncivil World
Posted by Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes at The Washington Post, February 25, 2015

I have always made an effort to put things in context for my children, when they have been sad about mean behavior on the playground or as they start to become aware of larger truths about suffering in the world, but I had not been doing that for myself, I realized, not really. I was protecting myself with anger, too.

I now turn and look at people when they’re rude to me, not afraid, I hope, to show them that they’ve hurt me just a little, and let them see that hurt, not the anger and ugliness that we so often put up in front of our pain. Maybe their pain will see mine, and we’ll recognize something in each other that reminds us that being a little kinder is the only rule we ever need to know.

Three Ways for Facebook Users to Handle Offensive or Abusive Content
Posted by Amina Elahi at The Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2015

Facebook policy prohibits harmful or hateful speech, including that which glorifies violence or threatens others, [Monika] Bickert said. She said the company relies on community members to report abuse, which staffers review and deal with accordingly.

“We want to give people a variety of weapons,” Bickert said.

She outlined the different ways Facebook users can handle offensive or abusive content.

Civility: An Impressive Regional Achievement
Posted by Malin Burnham and Steven P. Dinkin at U-T San Diego, March 5, 2015

San Diego has been blessed with a regional trait that makes those advantages possible: We share a belief in the power of “community before self” and we know how to cooperate in pursuing common goals and building a stronger society.

Over time, our regional culture of collaboration has been tested by a series of political and economic challenges here at home and on the national stage, and it has proven resilient at every turn. We think it’s important to keep that in mind as we prepare for a new election season and confront the complex issues impacting our community.

After Tom Schweich’s Suicide, Kansas City Council Urges Political Civility
Posted by Lynn Horsley at The Kansas City Star, March 5, 2015

In the wake of Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich’s suicide, the Kansas City Council on Thursday adopted a resolution urging civility in politics and in the coming council elections.

Councilman Ed Ford was the lead sponsor of the resolution, which got unanimous council support. He said it was prompted in part by Schweich’s untimely death in the midst of an apparently vicious whisper campaign about his candidacy for governor.

“The eloquent words of (former) Sen. (John) Danforth at his funeral put a lot of things in perspective,” Ford told his colleagues.

The resolution cites Danforth’s eulogy at Schweich’s funeral, in which he said, “Words do hurt. Words can kill.”

Civility in American Life isn’t Dead, But it’s in Decline
Posted at Lehigh Valley Live, March 8, 2015

Let’s be clear: Civility isn’t the fuel of democracy, it’s the primary lubricant. You can conduct business at full throat and invective; it just doesn’t work very well, and the gene pool for good, interactive government shrinks. It confirms the growing sense in American politics that common ground is unobtainable, even undesirable. It’s for wimps, and no one ever accomplished anything through reason.

You can go online and see what good-public-manners advocates say about civility. A public relations firm, Weber Shandwick, tracks people’s opinions on this. It comes as no surprise that a large majority of Americans says we’re getting more ornery every year. Yet to do anything about it risks the likelihood of being shouted down.

It’s like we’re feasting on our ability to listen.

Lessons in Civility from Tom Schweich’s Suicide

Lessons in Civility from Tom Schweich's SuicideWe so often couch civility as an exercise in niceness or courtesy, as a strategy for lubricating the jammed gears and wheels of government, or as a matter of lofty ideals — of acknowledging our common humanity, regardless of differences in our most deeply held beliefs. And all of that is important. But as we contemplate the our practice of civility, we should also consider that sometimes the consequences of abandoning civil discourse are more fundamental than any of that: it’s a matter of life and death.

The February 26 suicide of Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich should be proof enough of that.

Schweich — successful Republican politician in Missouri, recently re-elected auditor, and upcoming gubernatorial candidate — fatally shot himself in what, according to Fox News, police described as an “apparent suicide,” minutes after inviting reporters to his suburban St. Louis home for an interview.

According to Fox, Schweich had had a phone conversation with The Associated Press about his plans to go public that afternoon with allegations that the head of the Missouri Republican Party had made anti-Semitic comments about him.

As Mother Jones reports, Schweich was in fact Episcopalian, not Jewish. But he perceived that the head of the Missouri Republican Party, John Hancock, was conducting a “whisper campaign” against him by telling people that he was Jewish.

After Schweich’s death, Hancock denied this, saying: It’s plausible that I would have told somebody that Tom was Jewish because I thought he was, but I wouldn’t have said it in a derogatory or demeaning fashion.

But as Mother Jones suggests, Missouri is a state where anti-Semitism is already a political force. It is the state, says St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Tony Messenger, that gave us Frazier Glenn Miller, the raging racist who killed three people at a Jewish community center in Kansas City. And it is a state where the division over race and creed is real in Missouri Republican politics, particularly in some rural areas.

In his eulogy for Tom Schweich, former Republican senator John C. Danforth got to the core of the auditor’s last days. And that core, Danforth tells us, is all about civility:

We often hear that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just the opposite. Words for Jesus could be the moral equivalent of murder. He said if we insult a brother or sister we will be liable. He said if we call someone a fool we will be liable to hell. Well how about anti-Semitic whispers? And how about a radio ad that calls someone a “little bug,” and that is run anonymously over and over again?

Words do hurt. Words can kill. That has been proven right here in our home state.

We at the Institute couldn’t agree more. Words matter. The words with which we claim our needs are the difference between opening up a productive discussion and inciting anger and resentment. They are the difference between couching our disagreements as partnership or enmity. And in this case, they are the difference between a political disagreement and a devastating personal attack.

In this late stage of things, as Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post reminds us, it is disturbing that anybody thinks that voters can be won over with anti-Semitic bias. It is even more disturbing that, regardless of fringe anti-semitism, someone might be so upset at the accusation of being Jewish that they would take their own life.

But regardless: that seems to be the core of what happened. And the fact of it should illustrate with devastating acuteness the moral boundaries of adversarial politics and the degree to which we must be cognizant of the needs of others in the way we choose our words. As Parker writes:

Politics have always been a blood sport, a fact that some find worthy of boasting. But as we consider that America has lost a good man who was aspirational in his politics and inspirational in his private life, we face a question with an implicitly foreboding answer: Why would any decent person want to run for public office?

Her question is troubling. And it is vital. But it is almost beside the point. The better questions in this case might be: how did we get to a politics so rife with ad hominem attacks that even the most seasoned of up and coming politicians could not withstand its searing vitriol? And what can we do to fix it?