Civility will help win hearts and minds

(February 9, 2017)

The first casualty of the Donald Trump administration was not truth. It was civility.

The crude and rude taunts of the campaign trail have been mainstreamed into American political discourse.

However distressing “alternative facts” might be, at some point, truth (like murder) will out. But civility, once lost, is hard to regain, and that does not bode well for anyone affected by American politics.

Civility requires me not to call you a doofus even if that is what I think you are. It also requires me to consider, even for a moment, the possibility (however slim) you might have a valid point and I might be wrong.

Descend to name-calling, and you are not likely to learn anything from me, either.

The lack of civility means positions harden, battle lines are drawn, conflict is perpetual — and compromise or reconciliation means defeat.

None of this seems like a good idea south of the border or closer to home, unless this conflict is precisely the intention of the instigators.

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A tweet, full of sound and fury, signifying…

(January 25, 2017)

It is not entirely a misquote of Polonius, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to say “brevity is the soul of (t)wit.” Certainly this vain, false and generally unpleasant character — who uses these words to tell the king and queen their son is “mad” when he is not — would have enjoyed spewing his opinions on Twitter.

Profound ideas can be expressed in few words (as in Japanese haiku), but “profound” is not usually an adjective applied to the transient wisdom of a tweet. It used to be said that “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap.” In comparison, much of what passes for social media today is instead more easily depicted as breaking electronic wind.

We could blame Marshall McLuhan for this problem, as misquoting him to conclude that “the medium is the message” excuses a lack of content in the Twitterverse. But when 140 characters describe the policies and intentions of political leaders, nothing good comes of it.

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