A New Year’s resolution for civility

Posted on December 27, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Georgia Kelly 

In 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report, “The Trump Effect,” which detailed the degrading and violent rhetoric that the Trump campaign had unleashed on the American public. The meanness and vitriol extended toward “the other” – that is, anyone who differs in ideas, beliefs, race, gender identification, etc. – makes them fair game for verbal and even physical abuse.

The SPLC survey received more than 25,000 responses from educators in K-12 classrooms across the country.  Nine out of ten of those responders had reported an increase in negative behavior following the 2016 election. Some described specific incidents that could be tied directly to election rhetoric. Often, the exact same words Trump or his supporters uttered were repeated in classrooms. They also reported a noticeable uptick in bullying, assaults on students, property damage, racism, sexism, and graffiti that included swastikas.

Such behavior has filtered down to Americans throughout the country, even from those who detest everything about Trump and his more extreme supporters. Examples include increased road rage, more bullying in classrooms and in the workplace, more verbal lashing out among peers, more venom and intolerance in letters to the editor and on Facebook pages, and in general a meanness not seen in my lifetime before now.

When even elected members on the Sonoma City Council think it is OK to demean other council members – on Facebook no less! – or, when some citizens feel free to insult and even threaten council members when the vote doesn’t go their way, we can no longer ignore the toxic effect that this type of behavior is having on all segments of our society. Not one of us is immune to the constant permission this administration is giving for such behavior. The Trump Effect has given license for tantrum behavior, acting before thinking, lashing out without proof, and generally giving cover for angry and uncivilized behavior.

So, how about a New Year’s Resolution that puts this behavior to rest. Here are a few ways that we might be able to transform such behavior:

1) Think before you speak.
2) Don’t send that letter, and don’t post that barb on Facebook or Instagram without thinking it over first.
3) If you’re angry, cool off before responding. Acting out is immature, irrational, and indicates a lack of self-control.
4) Resolve to get more control over your emotions.
5) Assume you don’t have the whole truth – about almost anything.

In studying and now teaching conflict resolution, I have been deeply influenced by the work and writings of Jonan Fernandez, the Director of the Basque Parliament’s Department of Coexistence and Human Rights. As he makes clear, resolving conflicts is not about blaming others; it is about accepting responsibility to solve a problem. Sit with that idea for a few minutes. It takes an extraordinary amount of maturity and self-discipline to incorporate that idea. It means that a cause is never more important than respecting the people involved in a conflict. It does not mean respect for their beliefs but respect for the person.

In a culture of strongly-held beliefs and incredible doses of self-righteousness and self-entitlement, we are challenged to work against the toxic tide that would thoroughly poison our relationships and society. So, I’m proposing a New Year’s Resolution that will make the LOVE sculpture on our plaza stand for a transformation of our way of relating to each other. If we make that resolution, then the sculpture should remain as a testament to our resolve to show respect toward others before speaking and acting.



3 thoughts on “A New Year’s resolution for civility

  1. It’s worth noting that the SPLC’s “Trump Effect” report was designed for fundraising, not fact-finding.

    1. The survey was broadcast over the internet indiscriminately and all replies were anonymous. There was no method of determining who was replying or if they were actual educators.

    2. The SPLC has yet to make the actual responses public, or at least available to journalists and researchers. There is no way to verify how many responses came in or what they actually said.

    All we have is the SPLC’s word for it, which is not good enough and certainly not good journalism. Big claims demand big proof, or any proof, for that matter.

    3. All of the unverified anecdotes listed in the “report” came from the anonymous likes of “High School Teacher, New York” and “Elementary School Teacher, Minnesota,” with no corroborating evidence whatsoever.

    4. If you dig deeply enough into the report you’ll find this buried disclaimer in which the SPLC itself admits:

    “The results of this survey are not scientific. The respondents were not selected in a manner to ensure a representative sample; those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not.”

    In short, “The Trump Effect” was little more than a ham-fisted fundraising ploy that sought to outrage the SPLC’s largely Progressive donor base while barely skirting strict IRS rules that prevent 501(c)(3) non-profits from promoting or denigrating political candidates.

    If the company that issued the “report” admits that it is unscientific, why should anyone else treat it otherwise? Incidentally, the SPLC brought in $132 million in donor-dollars in 2017, compared with $50 million in 2016, largely by feeding its donor base a steady diet of Trump-related outrage. It closed the year with more than $433 million tax-free donor-dollars on hand, 98% of which are designated as “unrestricted” in use.

    THAT is the real “Trump Effect.”

  2. Whether the report reflected scientific results or not is not the main issue. Any survey that elicited more than 25,000 responses from across the nation is to be taken seriously

    Ask any teacher you know if he or she has seen an increase in bullying and lashing out since Trump took office. As Bob Dylan once wrote, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows,” and that is what “The Trump Effect” is pointing out. Everyone — not just in classrooms – has seen in increase in violent rhetoric, acting out, and bullying since Trump has normalized this deviant behavior.

    The incidents I cited are local and were not taken from classrooms, but they also reflect meanness, entitlement, and the my-way-or-the-highway approach that has been encouraged by Trump’s boorish, narcissistic behavior.

    If SPLC was able to fundraise from helping people across the country understand how dangerous this behavior is to the fabric of our society, then I applaud them. They deserve funding for pointing out the elephant in the living room that many people do not want to see — and, that seems to include the above writer.

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