Don’t Get Mad, Ask Questions

Anger is a staple of modern public discourse.  Perhaps, some people will say, that’s always been so.  The fact that a mean spirited element has long existed makes it no less toxic.

Most of us have freshly burned in our memories people shouting down members of congress at August town hall meetings.  And, in some cases, members of congress shouting back down their constituents.  Fresher still are images of a member of congress shouting down the President during his address to a joint session of Congress.  Immediately after, there was a spike in campaign contributions to the offending member of congress as well as his opponent.

In the social media sphere it is not uncommon to see anger filled political comments sprinkled among the updates on newborn nieces, vacation photos and business updates.  Perhaps we share some of the anger we read in our respective news feeds.  Perhaps some posts make us angrier still because we disagree – especially if we have not carefully filtered out all those who think differently.

In my community, I see anger expressed on a daily basis in our local newspaper.  There is a section in the paper in which people can express anonymous sentiments about any subject of their choice.  Each morning I read people sniping back and forth at one another over everything ranging from the Apostle Paul, to whether the President should make a speech to school children, to health care, to who knows what else.  It’s like a car wreck.  So many people I know feel sad by what they read but look religiously.

So many of us feel sorrowful about the current state of public discourse and yet the toxicity persists even amplifies.  We listen to calls for civility with a cynical ear.  We implore political candidates for office to be more civil not believing that they will.  What we don’t often consider is that, perhaps or even probably, the conduct of political candidates is a reflection of their communities and that civility begins with each one of us.

Don Haddad, Superintendent of St. Vrain Valley Schools, suggested at a recent school board meeting that each of us can contribute to a more civil public realm.  Here is what I took away from his remarks:

 It has become a habit when we read, hear or see something which we don’t like to immediately express anger without thought or care for the consequences.  We don’t consider how we might be stirring the cauldron of toxic public discourse.

We need a new reflex; a new habit.  When we read, hear or see something which triggers an angry feeling inside, we must resist the temptation to express those emotions immediately, unfiltered.  Instead, the feelings of concern should trigger each of us to ask questions, to learn more, to channel our feelings of anger into a learning opportunity.  We may find where there is smoke there is no fire.  Or, perhaps we will find a situation with enough complication that shouting each other down will do nothing but fan the flames and impede progress further.  In either case knee jerk reactions of anger are not useful.

I appreciate Mr. Haddad’s remarks because I can act on his advice.  I don’t need to wait for anyone else to take action first.  And though I may find it hard on occasion it is a good standard to strive for.

*     *    *

Also published in


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: