I remember something wonderful happening in the horrific aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. People from wildly different backgrounds came together to aid the victims and comfort one another. There seemed to be a strong sense of national unity.
I didn’t realize how fleeting those moments would be. Less than two decades past the attacks and it seems that our country is more divided and less civilized than it has been since the Civil War.
Many people of all political persuasions are unhappy, angry and prone to bursts of self-righteous blather. We seem unaware that extremism begets extremism.
In his 1971 book “Be Here Now,” Ram Dass (formerly Harvard professor Richard Alpert) says, “I know many of you will feel uncomfortable when I say this, but the hippies create the police as much as the police create the hippies. The liberals create the conservatives. The protesters create the John Birchers just as much as the John Birchers create the protesters. That as long as you are attached to whatever pole you are representing, the vibrations which you are sending out are creating its polar opposite around you.”
But it’s not just politics that cause this current lack of civility. Just this month, Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson, who admits that he lives with bipolar disorder, spoke out about being bullied online. “I’ve kept my mouth shut,” he wrote in a message to fans. “Never mentioned any names, never said a word about anyone or anything. I’m trying to understand how when something happens to a guy the whole entire world just trashes him without any facts or frame of reference.”
Not long after, Davidson posted a seemingly suicidal tweet saying, “I really don’t want to be on this Earth anymore,” causing a great deal of alarm among his family, friends, and fans.
Recently, a phenomenon called “virtue signaling” has been identified by academics as the conspicuous expression of values. One example of this is the pious individual denouncing the actions of others as immoral.
However, this device is used with regularity by those who support progressive ideals and social justice. On social media, it is commonplace to see so-called progressives mercilessly attack individuals, even other progressives, who express opinions that do not conform to the standard liberal ideal. In 2015, James Bartholomew used the term “virtue signaling” to describe public, yet empty statements as a way to gain social support, without risk, for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.
In other words, people have become prone to using this device as a way to proclaim their own high moral fiber when they are actually behaving in a self-serving, uncivilized manner that both stifles the nature of intellectual discourse and can cause tremendous emotional harm to the object of the scorn.
Of course, it doesn’t help matters that we have a leader who shows little to no civility in his everyday behavior. Clearly, the president’s tone is something that we must overcome. This is not a slight on conservatives, but rather an objective observation.
Whatever happens politically in 2019, it is clear that we, as a people, must start looking for our commonalities, rather than our differences, and strive to become more civil in our dealings with one another.