Courtesy Grows With Habitual Use
Editor, The Herald:
The politics of today are no different than what they were when this country was new, and the call went out for revolution against England. If anyone cared to read the reported news from back then, they would be surprised at how vitriolic the printed words of that time resonate today. In short, we have always been a people who argued about what is right – or wrong – with those who govern us, and among ourselves. This was considered a good thing then, and when the Declaration of Independence was written, we expressed it as no taxation without representation. Later, after Independence, when the Bill of Rights was written, Americans were granted the right to free speech. We exercise it today as we did then carried away with the passion of our individual and collective beliefs.
The one thing that seems to be currently missing from this scenario is good manners. Those who know how to argue can devastate an opponent with good manners and cutting arguments – the facts of the matter being discussed. It is what we wait for and can verify in televised debates – the facts of a stated position. We should not so readily accept “because it said so on TV” as a reason for anything, which is what many people do. Especially since we can instantly verify a lot of information on the Internet. People have the right to make statements, but people are fallible, and therefore can make mistakes intentional or otherwise.
Ultimately, we have to choose from among the field running for office that is presented to us, but I see, just in the last many years of instant communication, a small and petty mean-ness in the ideas exchanged among those who do – or want to – represent us. Our national and state legislative representatives have forgotten how to address colleagues who think differently from them with courtesy – the courtesy of good manners. And citizens now seem to do the same to each other. Good manners are a direct result of learning respect for others – and practice! Respect is both taught and earned by actions and deeds.
Our legislators have forgotten what they learned in college 101 – thesis (state your position), antithesis (listen to the argument from the opposite view) and synthesis (learn to find a compromise between the first two), so we can move on to the next problem to solve – which is what we pay them to do!
There is no money our government has that does not come from us. We are the people who have laws that let us govern from the bottom up, and not the top down. We are a people with a form of government, which is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Think about that seriously. We have all the rights we need, but neglect the responsibility for those rights. We believe we are right, enough to export our form of government to any people who want what we have – because they do not – and we, as well as many of them (look at what is happening in the world today), are willing to die to get it. Freedom is not just something you have as a birthright in America – it is something you do. Consider what we have asked the government to provide for us in taking care of us when we cannot (entitlements of citizenship), and consider the obligation of the citizen on the other side for what we receive. Where are all the volunteers in the schools from those who are on unemployment (when they are not looking for a job)? Or do not work because of a disability, or retirement. Or those who are lonely because they go home to an empty house or apartment – to mindlessly sit in front of a TV? Anyone can mentor with a skill, even if that skill needs to be supervised to grow. Just one hour a week can save a child's emotional or academic life and circumvent failure. Which then changes the future and the country. We can all learn new things no matter the age. You cannot grow up in this society without a skill that is right to teach to someone else – even if that skill is compassion or patience, which we need in abundance in this calamitous time. As a birthright, we are obligated to vote, but if we do not, the winner still represents all the constituents of his district. We are a nation of winner-takes-all, but that simply means they take on the responsibility of all the people they represent – not just the majority that voted for them. That is the taxation with representation we fought so hard to have. Representing us is a very big job, and since we are the ones hiring through our vote, we get back what we earn though our diligence – or lack of it.
We are a nation of neighbors, coast to coast. Everyone lives next to someone in this country – even if they are a distance from us. We react as neighbors when others (here and elsewhere in the world) experience a major calamity. We react to hunger when we cannot afford to do so, because we have compassion. I am the third generation removed from four great-grandparents who farmed for a living. I was brought up with the thought we could always add someone to the dinner table if needed, by baking more biscuits, or cutting tomatoes, or eating smaller portions. This was an example of sharing our bounty. We shared because it was good manners to invite someone to eat if they came by, or were invited, unknown to the cook, by a family member. The conversation we all had was the most important part of dinner at our table, and differing opinions were encouraged because they made you think – not just accept. Life is different now, everything is speeded up, and our children and adults are stressed in new ways. But good manners (specialized ways of behaving in human interactions) have been around for thousands of years because they make it possible for divergent, and today extremely different, groups to coexist and come together as neighbors and business partners. To work together in our local, national, and international societies. A simple please and thank you go a long way in the world, and cost us nothing except remembering to say them – and they both teach courtesy.
We should never let anyone, any TV broadcast(er), politician, business selling products to us, or anyone with a one-sided agenda (theirs), separate us as Americans. A house divided falls. Look around you at the catastrophes that beset us daily. America still has people who work, people who create jobs, and will create jobs, transportation that runs, who save at the bank or credit union, and the freedom to cross borders without being stopped for papers. Much of Europe, Africa, and Asia – which are much older cultures than we have – still have problems with all of these issues. In we believe “In God we trust,” it does not just mean when things are going well. If we continue to live and believe in ourselves as Americans, who believe that hard work will get you ahead (even if very slowly), and sitting on your duff doing nothing will not, we can still do
anything we set out to do. It takes the same amount of energy to be civil, or kind, or caring, or considerate, or compassionate in stating our beliefs, as it does to snarl, act meanly, say hurtful things, trash others, and generally be offensive. The same energy to say I can as it takes to say I can't. It is a choice, which then becomes a habit, and habits can be changed to work for us rather than against us – with diligence.
Farmers understand that it does not always rain when you want it to rain, but you still have to plant and tend to the field if you want to grow a crop. And the field does grow, based on the averages of the past. You just have to work hard, after being smart about when, where, and what you plant.
Courtesy grows in direct proportion to its conscientious, and habitual, use.
Sandra Everson-Jones, Acting CEO
Transport Buddies, Inc.
The Central Virginia Humane Society/SPCA
Regional Transport Facility Project
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