Disfunction Junction

Are people really surprised by what’s happening in this country now? Mass shootings, terrorizing minorities and immigrants, death threats against actors for being in movies; that’s apparently who we are now. It’s not just politics but there’s this toxic hostility in every layer of society. Some of it is warranted, given the many disparities among people along gender, racial, and economic lines, but there’s also a reactionary backlash that fans the flames.

It’s like all the vitriol spewed by politicians over the past forty years has filtered into society at large and the only way we can communicate is with insults and threats. Putting another party in power isn’t going to fix it anymore than it did in 2006 and 2008. This country has lost its heart and soul, and the anonymity afforded by the Internet just makes it easier to carry out random acts of rage with almost no consequences. Unless something is done to curtail it, things are going to get much worse.

Twenty years ago, I served as president of the Atlanta Jaycees. Going into the job, I was counseled to “lead from the front” and while I was never one hundred percent sure exactly what that meant, I took it to mean I had to set an example for the members through my actions and demeanor. I had to remain objective, and exercise my best judgment in carrying out our stated mission, and not become embroiled in day to day political squabbles. When problems arose, as they often do among energetic and highly motivated individuals, I had to find a way to mediate between the factions in a manner that resolved the issue without taking sides, and taking into consideration each person’s point of view. I learned very quickly that if I was intractable on some goal, I ran the risk of alienating the board of directors, and losing the confidence of the membership.

We don’t have leaders anymore. The political parties pander for cash to the narrowest faction of their supporters and ignore the jobs they’ve been elected to do, and the needs of their constituents. The daily mess in the White House would be hilarious if it didn’t have such devastating real world consequences. Any discussion of issues quickly turns into a verbal slugfest with each participant trying to out-slander everyone else. Arguments are not won by shouting, or by bullying others into submission. Firmness and resolve are laudable traits, but can easily descend into stubbornness and antagonism. The trouble is, most people are too busy formulating their response, that they don’t take the time to listen to the other person’s point of view. As soon as individuals refuse to compromise, discussion falls into little more than restating points, and one-upping the competition. True intellectual inquiry requires an open mind and an ability to empathize with the other person and it’s painfully clear we’ve abandoned all semblance of reason in this country. We will pay the price, more likely sooner than later.

Perhaps the solution is silence. Don’t react, don’t comment. Acknowledge privately that someone has said or done something but don’t respond to it directly. If it’s necessary to delete a response to a post, or disconnect with someone, do so, but just stop participating in the eternal flame war. It’s possible to remain informed of the news without reposting every negative news article out there. People already know how much of an arrogant jerk a certain individual is, so we don’t need constant reminders. Doing so only plays into the hands of those who wish to keep us at one another’s throats. Let’s propose a national cooling off period where trolls and flame bait get ignored and unanswered.

Everyone take a breath.

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