Brian Hamilton: WANTED: Decency in discussion
August 15, 2017
Ahhhh … I love Nevada County in the morning.
The short slow drive up Highway 49, with the sun serenely flickering from the east through all these tree-covered hillsides, while I hum along with an Arlo Guthrie take on the City of New Orleans … "Good morning, America, how are ya?"
It's a beautiful way to start the day.
But sometimes it's a slap in the face shouted through my phone that welcomes me to work.
… why do we think it’s OK to scream and shout such vile language at someone … just because, dammit, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?
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"Why in the hell are you running this f—ing nonsense?"
"I'm so f—-ing tired of reading this s— in this motherf—ing rag of yours!"
"Your (voicemail) message says you'll call me back … so give me a f—in' call!"
Yeah, that's the stuff. That right there.
That's what, far too often, gets my day going. Give you a call? You must be joking.
Why are we so angry?
Yeah, I know: Trump. Obama. Fascism. Socialism. The Russians. And Hillary's 33,000 emails … I watch cable news too.
But why are we, here at home in western Nevada County, so angry?
And why do we think it's OK to scream and shout such vile language at someone — particularly someone we don't even know — just because, dammit, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore?
Look. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of issues worthy of our ire: the lack of action on affordable housing and homelessness; the revolving door with frequent flyers in the justice system; the impact of dwindling enrollments in our schools; the fire danger posed by the overgrown tinder box that surrounds us; the ongoing arguments in creating community standards for cannabis; the debates on the need, and the consequences of, the proposed dam; the prospect for economic development capable of actually producing jobs.
Just to name a few.
But I get it. Trump. Obama. And so on.
No one is saying we're not entitled to our own opinions. And we certainly don't expect absolute agreement in our varied viewpoints.
But when did it become OK to berate our neighbors with such nastiness simply because we don't agree with their perspective — political or otherwise? Forget what Mom preached about not having anything nice to say. At this point, we seem to settle for the sarcasm and snark of social media rather than actual face-to-face conversations where social graces are required.
Or, at least, they used to be required.
And we wonder why our country, our community, can't seem to solve problems?
WORDS MATTER; YES, EVEN ONLINE
We've had readers ask in recent months whether we have a policy on comments posted on stories at TheUnion.com or at The Union's Facebook page.
In many ways, it's the same policy which we ask our readers to adhere in order to be published on these pages in print. No personal attacks, name-calling, foul language (apologies for the above-quoted gems), threats or encouragement of violence, and so on. Being an online aspect, we also don't allow trolling. And I'm not talking about the fishing sort.
Dictionary.com: "Trolling — 1. to post inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments on (the Internet, especially a message board) for the purpose of upsetting other users and provoking a response; 2. to upset or provoke (other users) by posting such messages or comments."
In short, provoking a response is a good thing, if you're actually discussing the issue at hand through thoughtful commentary. But if you're trying to provoke a response by spewing on about "libtards" and "right-wing nutjobs," well, not so much.
A few years ago, our company removed the ability to comment on stories largely due to the vitriolic — and sometimes potentially libelous — posts of people hiding behind "handles." The purpose of online comments is to help further the conversation on a topic covered, but the back-and-forth nonsense that typically followed offered little toward that goal. When the commenting feature was revived, we'd hoped the requirement of a personal social media account would help provide some personal accountability for the words posted.
Of course, some adults behaving badly scoff at such a notion. Now some people post through a fake identity or organization, so they don't have to own their own words. (And some, surprisingly, still post offensive and rude comments despite their actual name being attached to them.)
If readers encounter such, we ask that they let us know so that we can clean up the mess and hopefully continue with a more productive conversation. We'll offer a warning, but such behavior won't continue — at least not where we can help it.
GET ON BOARD WITH THE UNION?
For those committed to furthering our community conversations in a productive manner, as opposed to trolling, we are accepting applications for volunteer members of The Union Editorial Board.
We're seeking a wide array of perspectives that will help us represent the community in our discussions, whether in the weekly "Our View" editorial — produced from conversations of the full board — or in personal columns authored by board members. In addition to writing a monthly opinion piece, we expect regular attendance of board meetings and participation in our deliberations as we talk about local issues in a civil, respectful manner.
If you are interested, please email EditBoard@TheUnion.com with a short bio and why you'd be a great addition to the group. Deadline for applications is Friday, Sept. 1.
And, please, no phone calls in applying — even those showing more social grace than the aforementioned slap in the face.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.