A Call for Civility (there is work to be done)

I just read through, for the infinity-eth time, another string on FaceBook in which the participants (names withheld out of respect) traded insults and ample use of the words “idiot” and “f#$%ing idiot” to emphasize their position. Now, to be clear, the following is not preaching so much as it is self-reflection, as I’ve been similarly passionate during particular rants. Also, I don’t feel like I’m “preaching to the choir” as much as preaching to an ensemble (you know who you are, predisposed to always take the high road). But, as recent events have clearly shown, civility and the propensity for understanding has broken down to a completely dysfunctional state. And I’m not talking about South Carolina (OK, see what I mean? Sorry.). Whatever one’s narrative, whether developed from religion, humanism, personal experience, or — God forbid — the Internet, it has nonetheless become part of one’s identity. It could be fact-based, or not. But that really doesn’t seem to matter. It is what one believes, and will continue to believe until an acceptable alternative presents itself. It helps that there be an element of curiosity for truth; there is no such thing as an “alternate fact,” just alternate interpretation of a fact. That said, consideration of another point of view is surely not going to happen when an individual’s planet of residence is questioned.

Science is not the enemy, any more than is good journalism. Fact-based science (and journalism) tells us that wearing masks during a pandemic demonstrably slows the spread of the virus, and saves lives, just as it did more than a hundred years ago. And getting vaccinated against this global scourge — a gift of hope made possible by an unprecedented application of science and technology — may get us back to a place where we can address other current or looming crises.

Fact-based science also tells us that we are running out of time to mitigate the effects of global climate change which, believe it or else, will make the global pandemic look like a summer vacation. The loss of life during this pandemic is unimaginable, yet the loss of ecological infrastructure is predictable — reduced land area due to rising seas and flooding; less farmland due to droughts and/or flooding; diminishing forests due to fires (not to mention deliberate clear-cutting); billions in losses from extreme weather events like hurricanes. Still, dismissing and demeaning those who have yet to come to appreciate the dire consequences of doing nothing will not create the critical mass needed to turn the tide. The advances of science and technology are not going to be enough without buy-in from the masses, just as we’ve seen with resistance to the simple virus-slowing practices of wearing masks and “social distancing,” drawing out the decline of the virus’s spread.

We may fall off the wagon at times, but it’s imperative that we build the coalition of renewal and repair, which means responding to inaccurate posts or emails (people still use email, I’ve heard) with facts, not fuming. What the recipients do with it is not up to me, but the cloud of resistance may be thinned by not being called an idiot. Civility will go a long way toward addressing and solving the problems we face, and if we the people can do it, perhaps it will catch on in the Congress.

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