Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2012, 11:20 am
Editorial: Resolve to be kind
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
Good riddance, 2012.
Is it just us, or did the year that ended at midnight seem nastier than any in recent memory?
It would be easy to blame it all on the economy, but that would be a mistake. There is more at work here than people scrapping and fighting for a few extra dollars to put food on the table. Besides, too much money was at the heart of some of the worst behavior of 2012. Aptly named "dark money," hard to trace political advertising campaign spending that was particularly nasty topped $416 million this year. It was an expensive exercise that did little but contribute to the coarsening of political debate.
Of course, 2012 saw its fair share of "civility" talk. Everyone from the president to local political leaders suggested it was time to bury the hatchet between political foes. Too bad it too often was buried in the other guy's back. Paying lip service to cooperation and common ground doesn't create it.
We can't disagree without being disagreeable, demonizing those with whom we disagree. We also are amazingly quick to take offense these days even when none is intended.
Take the letter writers who were convinced during the election that we would not treat their Viewpoint offerings fairly because we supported the other guy or gal -- whether we had or not. Or the woman who emailed last month about a cartoon she believed belittled the tragedy at Sandy Hook. We were astounded that she took disrespect away from what we believed was a poignant image which showed a mom hugging her child tightly to her in the wake of the slaughter of innocent children and teachers in Newtown, Conn.
Compounding all this angst is the failure by far too many to take responsibility for their own boorish behavior. They believe that what they say and how they say it is justified because the other guy started it. Nowhere is that more in evidence than in Washington. The focus usually is on the raucous U.S. House. But the upper chamber is no better and perhaps worse.
The depth of the partisan divide and what now appears to be irreparable dysfunction in the U.S. Senate was on clear display in a 60 Minutes "interview" featuring Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The way the Democrat and Republican Senate "leaders" refused to look at one another and the manner in which they addressed one another was difficult to watch. After all, these are grown men, not 12-year-old boys, who have been elected to settle weighty matters that impact not just this nation but the entire world.
Yet, not only did they decline to seriously answer any of reporter Steve Kroft's questions, they cared only about assigning blame. "My good friend, Harry," and "My good friend, Mitch," aren't very respectful when they are spat like curses. Platitudes and saying "please" and "thank you" won't fix anything, particularly when the speaker doesn't mean either. Saying, "with all due respect," is meaningless unless you show it.
The lack of trust by those in power in Washington, Springfield and even in our counties and hometowns is obvious and deep. If it continues, we can expect an equally angry 2013.
So what's the answer? If there were some magic formula for returning the nation to civility and our government to a fully functioning one, we'd love to hear about it. We suspect, however, that the way back will be a long and difficult march.
It seems clear that Americans are ready for a change. Consider, for example, the reaction to a simple comment by network newswoman Ann Curry in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. Her suggestion that everyone in the nation commit 26 random acts of kindness to strangers in honor of each of the victims of the massacre blew up the Twittersphere.
For days, tweets came in from people who had taken up the challenge and our world was better for it. We applaud all who took part. The challenge now is to carry that spirit forward.
Indeed, why must "random" acts of kindness be planned? Very often they follow terrible events, like the massacre at Sandy Hook or the 9/11 terrorist attack on America. We see it after hurricanes and fires and snowstorms like the one that hit the Quad-Cities two weeks ago.
We've proven repeatedly that when we are kind and compassionate and pull together we are powerful and productive. We aren't naive enough to believe that kindness alone can cure what ails us, but by practicing, not pretending, kindness, we can undertake serious, and productive problem solving. Conversely, the current state of the nation and state is proof that it is impossible to reach compromise without comity.
The writer Henry James reminded us, "Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind." It is excellent advice.
In 2013, let's resolve to try a little kindness and see what comes of it.