On My Dignity

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.



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31 comments on “On My Dignity

  1. To agree to disagree should be held with the most respect, instead of disrespecting each other in something that is not seen the to eye. I don’t believe that people should use foul language or name calling to demonstrate their gentle disagreement. It works better if each side can talk civility to each other and come to some conclusion to understand each other.

    • The agree to disagree status at least lets people on opposite sides part without becoming enemies. That’s important, because the person I vehemently oppose on one issue might be my only ally on another.

  2. My Grandma D, who grew up in Oklahoma, would reprimand us, telling us to not Be Ugly. We may have said something snarky or unkind and Gram would not be happy with us. Mom called it Being Ugly too and we better not be to our sisters or there would be Heck to pay! On the internet, no one is telling anyone to stop being ugly and that’s why it’s happening–it’s fun to enjoy the snark, the cutting remark, the clever putdown and to watch what happens–but no one says it’s NOT right and to stop it.

    There is a quote (I don’t know who said it–I thought it was Mr. Rogers but it’s not) I love; “In a world when you can choose to be anything, choose to be Kind.” I choose to be kind; I may have a Bagful of Snark going on in my mind, but I don’t articulate any of it. Making someone feel stupid and small doesn’t make me feel good but I believe it makes those who are powerless feel powerful and that’s why they do it, especially if they can be anonymous. If we all chose to be kind, it would be a different (and better) world.

    • I’d say it’s worse than that. Not only is nobody giving us the,”Don’t be ugly” side-eye, much of social media is taunting us with, “Go ahead, be ugly. That’s engagement, we like engagement…” because it sells ads.
      It also sells our soul.

  3. It is hard not to get sucked in to all the negativity swirling around. Like Karlene above, I was raised on the golden rule. It was natural as I was growing up, but nowadays I sometimes have to make an effort to be kind or at least civil.

    I make a conscious effort to avoid as much of the negativity as possible. It’s not easy. I limit my intake of TV news. TV journalist are more like s**t stirrers than true journalists. I also try to avoid all the snarky headlines I see on-line. I don’t know what it is about Twitter that makes so many people seem like they have a poker up their rear end.

    A thought provoking post Grace.

    • I avoid Twitter, in part because of the mob behavior, but also because Twitter knows–has known for several years–that a substantial portion of its accounts are controlled by bots and trolls. Twitter has done nothing to cut those accounts lose.
      Again, the issue is reducing the traffic to an honest count would reduce ad revenue, which is ridiculous. If a bot sees my ad, the bot’s not going to buy the book. Deleting those fake accounts would IMPROVE the click-through-ratio, and not hurt my sales at all.
      But Twitter is selling impressions. Fake impressions, but impressions.

  4. I do believe everyone is free of its opinions but since the boom of the social media, it hurt me to see how someone by expressing its own can be bullied or the angry discussions it unravels. Why must everyone adhere to only one idea, sure some are wrong to me but it is bad to go against someone because of it. I do try to talk quietly but more and more people take easily offense so as I do not want a discussion turning to fight, I alas avoid now those same social media’s.

    • In my opinion, social media (I only do facebook) is for watching your friend’s children and grandchildren grow up – lots more pictures then is other venues. I kinda like the charity fundraisers, but my personal jury is still out on that one.

      • I do NOT like the charity fundraisers. Not only does FB take a cut of all revenue earned, I’m also hearing that they dole out the money over time which means they are making interest off of it. I’ve donated to my last FB charity.

    • Most of my family either never was on social media, or they tried it and moved on. Growing up, my parents strictly limited our TV watching (once we got a TV), and I think that led to an unwillingness to prioritize screen time among my siblings. When I can’t get on social media, I’m sorry to say I don’t miss it.
      At. All.

  5. You have to remember that EVERY person’s feelings & position, no matter how whack a doodle it seems to you, is valid TO THEM. And the more we allow people to lump us into convenient groups, the less we see other people as individuals and PEOPLE instead of US & THEM & labels.

    Whenever someone seems to hold a really divergent opinion or lifestyle from your own, it’s worth…THEY ARE WORTH… the effort of learning a little of their history to see what lies behind. Lies beneath. And if there’s no time and it’s a passing encounter, show them the respect you expect for yourself. You never know the truth the other feller’s coming from, to quote a family elder.

  6. I’ve pretty much stopped commenting online or reading others’ comments, so staying civil is definitely easier!

  7. My greatest battle is against speaking every descending thought I have as though it is crucial to a conversation. I have been practicing biting my tongue and am getting better at it as I discover (oh surprise) that the world does just fine, often better, without input of each of my thoughts.

    While working on that, I have looked for ways to be less confrontational in my speech. I rarely feel confrontational, so this is important. My two best adopted phrases are “I respectfully disagree” and “I wonder.” Not perfect by any means but a start.

    • I must add here that I was thinking on personal/face to face encounters. On line things get out of hand fast and often. In that venue, I keep to the subject and I say something kind/thoughtful or I say nothing.

  8. It does seem that we as a nation have devolved so much that we do not give others the right to disagree. People have no tolerance for a different point of view. It seems that even the Congress finds that compromise is a dirty word. It’s hard, but taking a deep breath and thinking before you blast someone actually works.

    • I thought things were getting worse too but according to the Civility in America survey, we’ve been 93 percent unhappy with our level of civility for about the past five years. Maybe things HAVE grown worse,but apparently they were bad enough back in 2013 too.

  9. The primary way I hold my personal line against incivility is by completely ignoring the bazillion provocative political Facebook and Twitter posts – there are many days that I simply ignore FB and Twitter. FB is the worst since I have friends and relatives who legitimately believe that they are not being obnoxious and petty with their ‘fun’ posts. It is beyond depressing at times. I just shut up, ignore the comments, and post cat, puppy, otter, and other animal pictures if I post anything at all. In real life, I avoid commenting when customers talk politics – I’ve become a master at the noncommital nod and “Hmmm” followed by a subject change. We can’t offend the customers after all. It has been necessary on occasion to politely request that customers do not ‘discuss’ certain topics so loudly because we are a family store. I’ve been able to avoid serious conflict in the workplace this way so far.

    • I do wish a way existed to make it possible to make people understand other people’s point of view. Maybe we could be more civil if we could relate to others better.

    • The old “corporate policy” can be a very convenient fig leaf. In retail, I’d say the noncommittal nod is probably a survival skill, but on social media…
      I am haunted by that comment about evil triumphing when good people do nothing, and Elie Weisel’s reminder that silence benefits the oppressor. It is standard propaganda management to amplify the unreasonable voices on both sides, drown out the moderates, and create the false impression that the world has gone to pieces. Between fatigue, anxiety, and fears about bad outcomes made to seem much more plausible, a society that silences moderate voices is easily controlled.
      In that situation, it is imperative that moderate voices remain in the dialogue. So while I applaud the non-committal nod on the sales floor, in civil dialogue, I am less enthusiastic about it as a tactic of first resort.

  10. A lot of us have taken yoga classes at one time or another, and a lot of yoga classes end with “namaste,” which essentially means the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you. I try, every day, (and the emphasis here is most definitely on “try” and not succeed), to remember that phrase and keep it with me throughout the day.

  11. I have appreciated everyone’s thoughtfulness, because I am one of those people who cut you off in traffic, who commented on the less than stellar hair cut, who laughed when you were suffering. And then I grieve. Kindness, empathy, correctness don’t come easily. So, thank you.

  12. I think that we need to aim higher than tolerance, like you say we need respect. But it sure can be challenging, especially when you feel hurt or threatened or angry. It is a good reminder of how important it is to try.

    • If I could teach one skill to myself, it would be compassionate listening. As you note, when we need it most–in a heated discussion, when things get scary–is when we’re least likely to use that skill.