Politics takes toll on civility, unity

Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:32 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One outcome of this election season for me is that I’ve learned a lot about people in my community. As most everyone knows, I take a lot of pride in being a Missourian. I love being around folks who have grown up close to the soil. I’ve always felt I could find a way to get along with the kind of people who make a creed of common sense.

Somehow, something has sneaked into some people’s thinking that I can’t recognize. We are the kind of people who grew up going to Sunday school. Every year at every church, we did the Christmas pageants, where we dressed up like the wise men and Mary and Joseph and talked a lot about peace on Earth and good will toward men. We learned at home how to say “thank you” and “please” and, in kindergarten, how to play together in harmony. Since then, we’ve worked together, had meals together and shared the same goals for our community.

Suddenly, something happened. We became conservatives and liberals and now can barely speak to each other in civil tones. At this point, I have to say, “Sorry, folks, life is too short; I’m not going there.” The politicians will simply have to pick up their marbles and go back to the halls of Congress to spread their venom among their constituency.

Another thing I’ve been told is that only evangelical Christians can seriously be called Christians. It’s been my experience that people can call themselves anything they like, and anyone who behaves Christ-like can be a Christian. You know, the old feed-the-hungry thing, turn the other cheek, love your neighbor as yourself — folks who practice all those rules. Believe it or not, some of those folks may be evangelical Christians, or even the unchurched.

It might be that civility has left American life for good, but I’m just not ready to give it up. Call it my normal pattern. It took me forever to get an answering machine, a computer and a car that was air-conditioned. I’m not arrogant enough to imagine I will be the last person to abandon good manners, but I can believe there will be a lot of places where I’ll feel like a loner.

I feel I have spent more than half my life trying to convince folks to try to set an example for future generations. But I have finally accepted that people really believe might should make right and flexing muscles will get you what you want. And this is the lesson many of them choose to have their children learn. It’s stupid to think society can do anything with kids that their parents might find objectionable.

For example, society has done everything it can to stop children from buying tobacco products. So who gives them the money for the products? The same goes for alcohol. The public keeps taking the fall on this and refuses to confront parents by letting them know they are the responsible parties. Nothing is sadder for me than seeing kids being tried as adults in the court system. We have such a case in our area that is being seriously debated. But I have to admit I don’t know the alternative.

Can parents be held responsible for their children’s behavior? I don’t think so. I grew up in the days when parents were automatically responsible for their children. But we changed all that because children have rights.

We don’t seem to be able to solve one problem without creating others. Obviously, just because children have rights does not mean they can exercise them any place or any time they choose anymore than adults can. I encounter 2- and 3-year-old children that adults can’t seem to control in the supermarket, in restaurants and other public places. But then again, we don’t have a very good handle on freedom. We seem to think it can thrive without responsibility.

I would hope we have not set a new community standard during this election, where civility is no longer expected or required. It really doesn’t take much effort to peel back the veil that separates us from the animals. We’re practically there — with a little nudge, we can stop burying our dead and the feat will have been accomplished.

On the heels of this election, I’m sure the two-party system will go back to business as usual. Neither party, I suppose, will take any responsibility for the division among us. I would go so far as to say that by then they will probably be able to pretend they never knew it existed. They are counting on us, the citizens, not to be committed enough to start other parties.

So, off we will go as leaders of the free world, showing other countries how they should govern their people. And if anyone should object — well, we know how to put individuals, ethnic groups, countries, continents, hemispheres or whatever in their place.

We’re the good guys. Well, aren’t we?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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