There are headlines across the nation almost every day about violence. That, of course, is nothing new. Yet it is disturbing to be constantly assaulted by bad news, and to hear statistics tell us that crime is up, gun violence is up, and polarization has increased, while hate crimes of all sorts become more and more common.
The reasons for this are many, of course, and the price we are collectively paying is high, to say nothing of individually. One result is an increased level of stress and anxiety generally, and lost lives in particular.
There is no one easy solution. Many issues have to be addressed. Many long-standing problems need to be dealt with. And exactly how to go about this is a source of constant disagreement. But each of us can still play a part in ratcheting down the rhetoric and turning the tide toward safer, healthier communities – and as President George H.W. Bush once said, “a kinder, gentler nation.”
At the Institute, one of the things we teach is when you disagree with someone, it becomes all too easy to dislike them. If you dislike them, it is not too hard to demean them. If you demean them, it is a short step to villainizing them. And if you villainize them, it can lead to victimizing them. It is a slippery slope down which any of us can fall. That is why holding a high standard of civility, even in the midst of disagreement, is so essential. (This principle is used in much of the Institute’s Civility Training. A version of this was used as our Quote of the Month in May 2016, crediting Cassandra Dahnke and Tomás Spath.)
And indeed it is true. It is so easy to find examples, not only in history and the news, but in our own lives, when someone (perhaps ourselves) has started down this treacherous path. Thankfully, most of us don’t fall too far down that slippery slope. That said, it takes practice, humility, and a strong commitment toward a respect for others – even in the midst of extreme disagreement – to separate a person’s biases, beliefs, behaviors and practices that we don’t agree with from their value as a human being. As President Barack Obama said, “Civility requires…relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable.”
Next time you disagree with someone and you start disliking and/or demeaning them because of it, think again. There’s a lot at stake. Creating a little less animosity and a little more tolerance is worth the effort.