Working in Washington D.C. can be a wake up call. From middle America, I always hear the question that goes something like, “Whatever happens to those people when they get elected and start living inside the beltway? Did they just forget what it’s like to be a normal person living with a normal wage in a normal family?”
And the follow up comments go something like…
- Those people are just a rich governing class. They don’t know me.
- Why can’t they get anything done?
- I can’t stand the institutions of government. It’s just a circus up there.
- It doesn’t seem that hard, can’t they all just figure it out?
On and On we go, being the armchair Monday morning quarterbacks giving our opinion on how the governing game should be played, while many of us operate out of information we hear on the 24 hour news media.
I must admit, I’m a bit biased now that I see first hand America’s leaders working to hammer out issues. But in the end, whether its a failed healthcare bill, a budget sitting on a desk somewhere, or whatever issue you care about; the inability for men and women to actually find compromise can be deflating. We just shake our heads in disbelief at the childish nature of the outcome.
Part of the problem is the intense polarization categorized around party. As I survey the landscape and see issues come to the table for decision, there’s almost a foregone conclusion before the debate even begins. If you’re Republican, you have to side one way, and if you’re Democrat you have to side the opposite way. And if there’s any collusion in the middle it’s seen as almost traitorous.
There’s no doubt, issues in American politics are heated and deserve the passion and rigorous debate someone can conjure from their core worldview. But is it possible to return to a level of civility where the badges of party can be set aside for the good of the people?
It seems like the founders of the country operated that way?
They fought for the Constitution.
They argued over States Rights.
There are stories where the heat of the debate resulted in physical altercations.
But there seemed to be an equal fight for the debate to be civil.
Maybe that’s why George Washington penned this little book on the Rules of Civility.
The First 5 of over 100 rules look like this…
- Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present
- If you cough, sneeze, sigh, or yawn, do it not loud but privately, and speak not indoor yawning, but put your handkerchief or hand before your face and turn aside.
- Sleep not when others speak; sit not when others stand; speak not when you should hold your peace; walk not on when others stop.
- Shift not yourself in the sight of others, nor gnaw your nails.
- Shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle when you speak.
I know it seems elementary, but what would our system of government look like if instead of seeing politics as sport, we actually encouraged our representatives to respect one another like George Washington taught?
But maybe more important, what would it look like if WE embodied a spirit of civility when talking about these major issues?
I have friends who have totally dis-owned other friends because they voted a certain way.
I’ve talked with people here in Colorado that offer terrible descriptions towards people of another party calling them names, attributing failure to them, and drawing friendship lines down the middle of right and wrong based on party affiliation.
Well, you may not have heard, but the Freshman class of the 115 Congress passed legislation last week with a bill called “A Commitment to Civility”
Representative Mike Johnson from Louisiana, and 50 Freshman Congressmen and Congresswomen signed the commitment to take on issues in a civil way between the red states and the blue states.
I don’t know about you, but it seems like the tide may be turning. With 50 of the newest members of Congress committed, maybe some of the other leaders will be willing to see the majority of us out here in the real world are interested in civil discourse.