I recently read an interview with activist Alicia Garza, and she was asked what freedom looks like for her as a member of a minority in America. In her response, she used the word “dignity” over and over. For her, a future of freedom for all of us is a future where we are each entitled to personal dignity. That resonated with me.
When I read Garza’s comments emphasizing dignity, I realized that’s part of what’s often lost for me in environments like Facebook, where a snarky meme invites snarky comments, and snarky comments degenerate into insults, and then the really vicious trolling starts.
Psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D, has developed a protocol for assessing which marriages are likely to end in divorce, and his predictions are 94 percent accurate–after observing most couples for as little as an hour. The one characteristic that spouses headed for the skids will evidence–without fail–is that they attack each other’s dignity. Name-calling, insults, mockery, mimicking, cold shoulders, indifference to suffering… once these get into the marital water supply, the results are almost always deadly for the relationship.
I am worried that these same signs of disrespect are in our social water supply, and they are wreaking the same havoc, but a survey conducted to assess the state of civility in the US finds that 93 percent of us think we have an incivility problem. But for a small minority, we ALL don’t want this contempt and sniping to go on, we recognize that it’s dangerously unhealthy.
What can I do to make sure I’m part of upholding civility rather than destroying it?
I’m thinking about that, and while I ponder the answers, I’m making a personal commitment to stay alert for what’s disrespectful and what insults somebody’s dignity. No more piling on the snarky-funny meme comments, no more going lawyer-Grace-of-doom on some thread. In the words of one my former judges, I will disagree without being disagreeable. I need to watch it, lest I fall prey to the temptation to indulge in the acerbic, belittling, argument that is the very thing I loathe.
Nobody ever changes anybody’s mind with those tactics anyway, and my priority should be to contribute to the solution of shared problems, not to get the most likes. Geesh.
What I like about focusing on dignity is that I think most of the people I disagree with, no matter where they come down on the issues, would concur that they want to be treated with dignity too. We can agree on that, and from there, we can respectfully explore what else we might agree on, or why we disagree on how to solve various problems. But if we come out swinging, we both lose, and the problems only grow worse.
How do you hold the line against incivility? How do you keep that shoulder devil from getting you into trouble? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed print ARC of Forever and a Duke.