I have to admit that for most of this week, writing has been extraordinarily difficult. It’s always interesting to think back to how events have their effect. This time last week I had no notion of what was about to happen on Saturday in Tuscon. Since that event, I have listened to a lot of commentary about the tone of discourse, though that has been focused on political rhetoric. The nature of politics is adversarial and it may be hard to really get to a point quickly where people tone down their rhetoric.
I was not able to catch all of President Obama’s speech at the memorial service in Tucson for the victims of the shooting, but caught some important parts, and saw expressions that say much more than words. His urging for people to learn to disagree without being disagreeable, though not his original idea, signifies one of the characteristics that many expected his election to bring. Yet, he has become a lightning rod for disagreeing and being disagreeable. I cite “You lie!”, as yelled by Rep. Joe Wilson during the health care address to Congress in September 2010, as one clear and very public instance of disagreeable disagreement.
Whether the President’s term will be defined by the speech he gave in Tucson is for time to tell. But, it will mark a point when the land was prepared for a change in the way that business-as-usual needs to alter.
It’s not just in public life that the point needs to be made, though, as I wrote a few days ago about civility. Our personal lives often revolve about disagreeable disagreements, and personalizing and prejudging in our views–a point, which a management book I am reading pointed to as a way of covering deficiences in the person doing that. Maybe, we have moved into this way of doing things for reasons that have good bases. But, somethings have to change.
A former rector once said to do the thing that seemed most uncomfortable. Being less disagreeable in disagreeing may be a good place to start.