Jo has been observing and studying the American political situation for decades and shares her advice about civil discussions.
On a recent tour my sister and I were conversing with a woman from Canada whom we had gotten to know during the tour. “I enjoy hearing you two talk to each other,” she told us. “You sound genteel.”
We immediately thought she was referring to our Southern accent, but she went on to explain that her daughter was attempting to teach her young child to be more genteel and not use words like “stupid”. So my sister and I looked at each other and said in unison, “It was our mother.”
What our friend from Canada was referring to was civility. Words like “idiot”, “stupid”, and “imp” were naughty words in our home when we were growing up. They were as bad as, if not worse than, curse words and were strictly forbidden. It was always very tempting, though, to call a sibling idiot, or stupid, or, my favorite, “you little imp”. But if my mother heard us, we would always be punished.
I still have an aversion to those words, or, more exactly, the misuse of those words. Some things are idiotic or stupid and should rightly be labeled so. Often, though, we use them to express our anger and/or impotence, as we did as children, so the misuse of these words often seems childish to me. They also seem to be expressions of lazy, intolerant, and closed minds. Not to mention arrogant. If someone doesn't agree with me they must be stupid, right? Referees and umpires, commentators, politicians, are frequently stupid, wacko, and lame-brained. It is so much easier to hurl these insults than come up with an intelligent response, to disagree civilly.
Being insulting and intolerant is not only hurtful to others but also limiting to us.
Political Discussions--Keeping It Civil
I notice incivility most often in the United States in our political discussions. Not the politicians only, but all of us. I notice it often online. I even notice it here on Hubpages. I am guilty of it myself sometimes. (It can be so tempting.)
I enjoy a good political discussion about issues and listen and read often to learn. Strong, passionate disagreements are all acceptable, but I immediately tune out and turn off anything that sounds uncivil, insulting, and childish. That rules out talk radio. It also rules out much online chatter. I make exceptions sometimes if something is humorous.
Our friend from Canada said her three-year-old granddaughter would sometimes put her head under the covers and mutter, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”, trying out the words her mother was forbidding. So if you're tempted to use insults, may I suggest you go put your head under the covers rather than clutter the airways or web with them.
Being insulting and intolerant is not only hurtful to others but also limiting to us. If we cut ourselves off from relationships with those who disagree with us, we are limiting our experiences.
There may be things we can learn from those who differ with us. They may differ not because they are stupid but because they have different life experiences and/or are at different places in their life. We can believe others to be wrong without labeling them stupid. All of our relationships do not need to be with like-minded people. If we're looking for a life partner, that may be a good criterion to use, but other relationships with those who differ can add richness to our lives.
How to Have a Political Discussion without Being Disagreeable
And So It Goes
Using the logic of this essay, however, I suppose I would have to ask Al Franken to take back what he said about Rush Limbaugh—but I did make that allowance for humor.
This book by Al Franken was written when he was just a comedian and not a politician. His latest book, as a Senator, is a much more serious book, with just the right touch of humor. Just look at the title. Surely that is a joke.
Humor, especially the self-deprecating kind, can sometimes help to keep discussions more civil.
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Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on August 25, 2017:
I'm tired of the bickering also, Bill. I have never ] taken part in the online discussions about much of anything, but this year I am speaking out a lot more. This election was different for me. But I do try to stay away from name calling and viciousness. That just doesn't advance the conversation any and I think shows a laziness of mind. I think there are conversations, though, we in this country should be having. So I'm not going to keep quite but I'll always try to stay civil.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2017:
I am so tired of the bickering, name-calling, and refusal to compromise in a civil manner. I have divorced myself from discussions about politics, and I'm happier for it. :)
Arthur Russ from England on April 30, 2017:
Likewise, I like to learn more about how people live in other cultures. The rest of Europe is easy in that it’s on our doorstep and we frequently travel around Europe, especially France and Belgium; and culturally all Europeans have a lot in common.
The America culture has been more difficult for me to appreciate in that its thousands of miles away, and although superficially there appears to be a lot in common, the more I learn about America the more I learn that over the centuries its culture has diverged from that of Europe.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on April 30, 2017:
Arthur, Glad you are learning that not all Americans are of one cloth. Most of the time, here in America, we are not talking about politics. We can relate to our more conservative neighbors in a very friendly way about the day to day events of our life and never mention politics.
Regardless of what your politics were, I would still enjoy reading about your projects around your home. I like to know how people live.
Arthur Russ from England on April 26, 2017:
Thanks Jo, yes polite (and respect) sums up what ‘political correctness’ stands for. I am quickly learning from you (and a small handful of other Americans I’ve recently found on HubPages) that (thankfully) not all Americans are of one cloth.
I am eternally grateful for what you are teaching me, and I wish I could find more Americans like you on Hubpages; and elsewhere on the Web. I appreciate that any future articles I may write on HubPages out of frustration with some American attitudes towards Britain needs to clearly stress that I’m only referring to that type of Americans that are so negative and narrow minded.
Any tips in ’phraseology’ (or words to avoid) you may suggest to describe the type of American I’m referring to, while trying to avoid offending the more thoughtful Americans like yourself, would be appreciated.
Likewise, not all Brits are of one cloth, but the divisions tend not to be on religion, politics or social issues. It tends to be more down to the individuals personal attitudes and interests e.g. I’ll generally base my friendship with someone on our common interests rather than politics or religion.
Politically it can cause headaches for political parties as a lot of natural Conservative supporters (the middle class) tend to support many of the principles of the left wing parties. While many of the lower working class (natural Labour supporters) can all too easily be persuaded in arguments by the Conservatives of the need for prudent public spending; even when it means they’ll be worse off. So when it comes to general elections each political party in their manifesto try to poach votes from the other parties’ natural supporters.
On a personal level, although I’m technically lower middle class we chose to buy a house in East Bristol (the less well-off side of the city) not just because the housing is cheaper but mainly because we feel more comfortable living with the low paid and unemployed e.g. because their lives are less superficial.
The biggest divide in Britain is North/South. Southerners (the wealthier half of the country) like me tend to be more reserved and therefore more likely to talk about you behind your back. Whereas Northerners (the less wealthy) are far more friendly towards strangers and speak their mind, so offer greater hospitality and are far more honest; especially the Scottish.
Of course I’m generalising (stereotyping) in my above comments; but I hope it gives a flavour of how social and cultural attitudes generally cuts across politics and religion in Britain; rather than divide.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on April 26, 2017:
Arthur, I think 'political correctness' is just another way of saying 'polite'. I may have to change some of the things I've learned, but if it helps another person feel better, that's okay with me.
Americans are not all of one cloth in how we think and behave. I, personally, am mostly surrounded by like-minded people, even here in the very conservative South. I don't listen to the kind of negative talking you are referring to and I don't follow or engage in conversations with those sorts online.
Arthur Russ from England on April 26, 2017:
I read every word of your article, and fully agree with what you say. I wish more people on the web could be as civil as you. I’ve grown up in a culture where since the 1970s ‘political correctness’ has become firmly embedded into every aspect of daily life; so exposure to the web since the early days of the Internet, in the last 20 years has been a culture shock.
When during Women’s Lib back in the 1970s in Britain words like chairman fell out of fashion and were placed with chairperson and househusband became a socially acceptable concept I readily accepted the culture change.
And I do love the way British politics and law have embraced ‘political correctness’ into its very fabric (albeit a bit excessively at times) e.g. the ‘hate laws’ designed to protect vulnerable minority groups against abuse; for me it makes life so much more civil.
Unfortunately, there are some on the other side of the pond (some Americans) who don’t see it in the same light as me; and all too often attack ‘political correctness’ as censorship (a muzzle on free speech); and then aim their abuse at me for wanting to stick up for the rights of minority groups, rather than debating the issue rationally.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on March 30, 2017:
Thanks for stopping by, Alun. I agree with you totally that this type of discussion is always a non-argument. It feels good sometimes, though.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on March 24, 2017:
Scott, this was probably the hub I enjoyed writing most. It's been a while since I wrote it, but I think it gets more relevant all time.
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on March 24, 2017:
When it comes to Internet discussions, I must admit that I sometimes find it hard not to use words like 'stupid' or 'idiot', because sadly the nature of the Internet is such that some posters will be deliberately provocative whilst others will say things which are totally lacking in reason.
However, I do always try to see the other person's point of view and respond in a civil way. There are three reasons for this:
First, swearing and name calling is just plain offensive and rude. Second, it may indicate an intolerance of genuinely held, alternative points of view. Third, it's a non-argument. It's not constructive and it can indicate that you've lost the argument.
So I think you've certainly won your argument in this article Jo in support of a civil, more constructive debating tone! :) Alun
promisem on August 13, 2016:
This has one of the funniest headlines I've seen on any Hub. I strongly agree with your premise and wish more people would learn how to be civil when talking about politics.
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on February 07, 2011:
@nursepam, thank you for stopping by and commenting. It is appreciated.
nursepam on February 06, 2011:
I love this article, i hope more will follow... thanks Jo!
Tony McGregor from South Africa on January 12, 2011:
I really enjoyed this and found it helpful. I think that using words like "stupid" and all the other insults we hurl at each other are childish and hurtful and unnecessary. Debate around an issue is good, even robust debate. But calling people names is just, well, stupid! Er, make that "unhelpful"! LOL!
Civility is seemingly in short supply these days, and that's a pity.
Thanks for sharing
Love and peace
Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on January 10, 2011:
murph, thanks for reading and commenting.
beege, thank you for reading and for your kind comments. I'm pleased that you enjoyed it. I am enjoying your hubs as well. I mostly follow those whose writing I like. I like to get a sense of the person doing the writing and your hubs are especially good at that.
Beege215e on January 10, 2011:
Jo, I couldn't agree more. When I was young the mother of a friend of mine said that using what she called "hurt" words reflected a small mind. She always told us to think about what we were saying and How it would be heard. Swearing and insults were products of that small minded individual. We, she said, were better than that. We started using that education while with her, and it just became natural. Later a professor made a comment to me about the way I talk positively and he said he wished everyone could avoid "verbal abuse" as well. So you and I have just this little something in common. Thanks for a well written hub, absolutely brilliant
John Murphree from Tennessee on January 08, 2011:
This is certainly level-headed, even-handed and well thought out. Jo indicates the way that all of can be more agreeable, and I think, better people if we follow her advice.