Yes, etiquette is needed for letter writers
Gary Lindstrom’s piece on “Newspaper etiquette, or the lack thereof” (Consider This, Dec. 17) was well done but long overdue for some letter writers to the newspaper. For a number of years, the letters have featured virulent attacks on the character and veracity of those opposed by the writers. These ad hominem attacks often use words like liar, idiot, traitor, scoundrel and immoral when referring to the opponent. It seems as if we have lost the attribute of civility in the discourse among our citizens.Political scientists have noted this loss of civility and studied the issue. In one study they examined the workings of State Legislatures both functional and dysfunctional. Dysfunctional legislatures were noted for the their lack of civility. The one universal factor noted in those groups where communication broke down was the use of ad hominem attacks. Calling someone a liar effectively cuts off cooperation and discourse among the parties. Functional legislatures were noted for inherent respect among the members. Arguments were based on intellectual content and emotions were kept in check. While this study was confined to state politicians I suggest that it applies to all human relations. So why did they use politicians for a study on the effects of civility?Many people disdain politicians. These naysayers have probably never served on a school board, or any body requiring the moderator to get two out of three people to agree on anything. These are my way or the highway people. Politics is the art of compromise wherein many different views result in cooperative unified action. It’s accomplished by debate wherein opinions can be modified or compromised to obtain a satisfactory result. You may not like the result or the politicians but the process is vital in a democracy. Dictatorships don’t have the problem if that’s what you prefer.One would think that a Letter to the Editor (a political act) would be composed to influence and alter opinions of the populace. Instead these ad hominem letters simply exhibit anger, even hatred of the opposing side and thus shut off any further discourse. Furthermore, when they state that Bush is a liar, or, anti-war marchers are traitors, they not only insult Bush, or the Marcher, they insult everyone that holds the opposite opinion from their own. Many of these people are their neighbors. In a democracy, where citizens participate in the process, this is a recipe for disaster. In a community it results in discord. So I suggest to future letter writers if you want to alter opinions, influence and gain cooperation, practice civility. Long ago people who practiced civility were called people of “good will”. The results of civility can be summed up in the phrase, “Peace on earth, good will to men”. Yes, they go together and it starts with us.
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