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Our unraveling discourse

| Friday, September 2, 2016

Jefferson’s flowery prose has wilted, King’s inspirational cadence has faded and Scott Key’s emotional lyrics have drifted past. The voices of our greatest achievements have largely been drowned out by a coarse cacophony of fragmented concerns.

One of the areas through which progress can be evaluated is through the lens of how we perceive each other, how we treat each other, and how we speak to and about each other. Since the founding of the Republic, America has struggled through various adolescent periods, and stages of infirmity, during which her citizenry has felt the pain of various forms of bigotry. These struggles have strengthened our resolve to become the best version of our societal self, while at the same time leaving scars on our national profile. They have caused great pain but they have not broken our spirit. Through the lens of hindsight, most people would now say that these changes in attitude, beliefs and law were positive evolutions.

We claim to desire to be a diverse, tolerant society and yet we have become less willing to even listen to the perspectives of those who differ from our own. We say that we take pride in the progress that has been made in breaking down the walls of various forms of prejudice while in our minds, our words and our actions, many of us demonstrate intolerance for those with different ideological views. This ideology bigotry has led to a degrading of the decorum of discourse. We have become unwilling to consider other opinions and are quick to dismiss that there is any legitimate value in an alternative point of view. This reflexive response occurs because we are certain that we know the type of people who think and talk like this; the type of people that don’t get it, or the type of people who are simply selfish, bad people. We categorize people with our perceptions and place labels on them. There are all kinds of labels which project negative perceptions to one group or another including political associations like Democrats, Liberals, Republicans and Conservatives. Unfortunately, to many people, the mere mention of this type of label being applied to an individual leads to an adversarial response.

In an election year it is always easy for us to view the political class through a negative lens. We become critical of the style of communication that they use to inform us who they are, what they believe in and what they will do if elected to the highest office in the land. We hear from the pundits how the candidates promote their agendas, how polarized the political process has become, and how they are unwilling to work together for the good of the American people. Yet, there is a more important question to be explored. Is this type of communication style leading society in a more intolerant direction, or rather, is this tone a reflection of society? A quick trip to a coffee shop, an airport, a school or the average home illuminates that we have become a people who, through our words, have become important, impatient, and lacking grace in how we communicate. We have become a nation that snaps its’ “T’s” when it says the word ‘what’. A word which previously had been used as a question has now become a statement of disapproval. It has also become commonplace for a person passing by others to hear the word “whatever” stated by one of the people as a pejorative response. In fact, our tolerance is contracting at a point in time where we need it to be expanding. This approach is not the result of the polarization that we hear discussed with great frequency, but rather is the cause of it.

A few decades ago a candidate ran for our highest office by calling for “a kinder and gentler nation” and was widely ridiculed for it. Perhaps, we can now look at the state of our discourse and admit that he was prescient. The communication style that we are witnessing during this election cycle has become acceptable on the public stage because it has become commonplace on our playgrounds and in our schools, in our homes and our daily life. We don’t like what someone thinks or says so we ignore them, or we shut them down. We wonder how it has ever come to this point, how society has become so aggressive and intolerant of other points of view? The average man and woman on the street say that they don’t like the way that things have evolved. But what can we do about it? How do we change it? Facing this, the intersection of disappointment and frustration, it is still possible that sage heads can recognize that raised voices, protests or even elections won’t change the state of our societal tone. At a time when all of the cameras are pointed at the candidates, perhaps we can simply hoist a small mirror, to look closely, and examine our own voice in the choir. Since harmony is a balancing of sounds, let us truly listen, let us adjust our key and let us work to correct the decorum of discourse in our lives, our homes and our society so that a more appealing quality and character of sound will appear.

Bill Brennan

senior associate

Mendoza College of Business

Aug. 30

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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