It was a noisy campaign. As the year winds down, perhaps the vitriol will too.
America has always been a place where people speak their minds and feel free to do so. Tolerance for the views of others has been part of the foundation on which our nation was founded. We’ve seen some pretty intense backlash during the campaign -- and that too is quintessentially American. But the back and forth/rough-and-tumble of the v-e-r-y long political season has taken its toll and left more than a few frazzled citizens as a result.
While complaints about the harshness of the 2016 campaign are plentiful, the incivility those complaints speak to is nothing new. Back talking is also quintessentially American. Did you know that in 1641 a law was passed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that made it illegal for anyone under the age of sixteen to “smite” their parents?
In a survey done BEFORE the campaign, 89% of Americans say incivility was a serious problem in America. 85% say they believe incivility divides the nation and erodes crucial values like respect. Most people also believe it’s getting worse. 78% of respondents say civility has deteriorated considerably over the past ten years. Yale professor Stephen Carter defines civility as “the sum of all the sacrifices we make for the sake of living together.” I live in New York City in a little box called an apartment. There are people living above me, below me and beside me. I might wish to play my music loudly. My children might want to do cartwheels. But we don’t out of respect for our neighbors. My sisters who live in houses with yards at some distance from their neighbors never have to think about such things. If they are blaring their music, no one knows – or cares.
I can’t help but think post-election what America needs more of is respect. The truth is -- a little respect goes a long way. Aretha Franklin made the word an anthem but the rest of us can just make it a way of life. The word itself shows how to do it. Respect comes from the Latin respectus, which means ‘regard.’ More specifically, ‘re’ meaning ‘back’ and ‘specere’ meaning “look at.” Respect then is to ‘look back at’ yourself—and others. It’s the Golden Rule – “do unto others …” and the research that exists shows that people who give respect receive unexpected benefits as a result. Why? People on the receiving end of respectful behavior feel valued and important. That sparks good feelings on the part of the recipient which tends to boomerang back to the individual who was respectful in the first place.
Give it a shot and see what happens when you are purposeful about treating someone with respect. I’m willing to bet the situation will play out in a surprisingly positive way.