Kimmy Sophia Brown

How Can We Practice Civil Discourse in the Public Forum?

Being friends in an age of enemies

Mar 8, 2018

It’s snowing hard in Maine this evening. Everyone who lives here will cope with it. It brings us into a single focus as people. The snowplow drivers and the police and ambulance workers serve everybody. The coffee shops serve everybody, so do the grocery stores, gas stations and hospitals. On the human level we have so much in common. So I’m dismayed when politics divides people to the degree that they can regard an opposing view as not being worthy of respect, or that that person is not worthy of the right to express an opinion or in some cases, even worthy to live. When things degrade to the extent that intelligent discourse and debate can no longer happen, then people become reactive. By then no-one is listening, no-one is thinking, and there are no 'aha' moments of resonance because of rage or blame.

People hate to hear the opinion of someone who has been vilified in the media. I've wondered, what if that person was my partner, one of my parents, or siblings, or children? I would be worried about their safety, about their feelings if they are being pounded by public opinion, whether the accusations were true or false. I would feel anguish that the good points about them were not being considered or remembered. I would feel sorrowful that they became a public bull’s eye. I would want their story to be heard.

I have loved America all my life, and have loved so much of what has come from this country, but we've gotten to a place where we could stand some greater self-assessment. We have to look at our mistakes, admit them and fix them. We have to ask ourselves, have we been unfair? Have I been unfair? Duking it out in a fair fight was once an honored way to resolve an issue, but now a sort of dueling mentality is coming back into fashion and many seem to want to fight to the death. We’re living in a time of shameful recrimination and verbal rock throwing. The Capulets and the Montagues are at each others’ throats anew, and the only thing that stopped the original battle was the death of a son and daughter.

We human beings are not born enemies. As Shylock said, speaking to a Christian about his Jewishness, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” The roots of of all humans are from the same Source. We can use the virtues to come back into balance. We need to recognize and eschew dirty fighting tactics, and give our brass knuckles to the bartender. No poisons, no traps. I know that we can find a way to come up from this dark time “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” to quote Abe Lincoln.

This reminds me that Mark Twain once said that the only persons allowed to use the term “we” when expressing opinions are the pope, the queen or the king, or the person who has tapeworms. So in that light, all I know is that I don’t know everything. I don’t know all the people in the public eye right now who are being dragged onto the carpet and attacked and shamed for their actions and beliefs.

But I know we can sort it out. We have to want to. And as corny as it sounds, the future of our planet rests on how we choose to proceed. This is important on so many levels - not just now, but for eons to come. I think we’re capable of great things. I hope we can dig deeper to become our best selves. We and the tapeworms!

Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.