David Brooks is right -- on civility
If you read only one column today, please read David Brooks's piece in the New York Times. In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson and the wonderful self-reflection the nation is undertaking, "Tree of Failure" gets at the root of why civility matters and why we've lost it.
"The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves," Brooks writes. As a result, he continues, "Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn't ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process."
What Brooks gets at is something Peggy Noonan was getting at in her column on leadership last week about Capt. Owen Honors's videos on the USS Enterprise. As a society, we don't think beyond ourselves, and many of us don't think or realize that we have a higher purpose that demands we think beyond ourselves.
So, of course, you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth. Of course you get people who prefer monologue to dialogue. Of course you get people who detest politics because it frustrates their ability to get 100 percent of what they want. Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents. They feel no need for balance and correction.
Meanwhile, Noonan's words last week on Honors, written before Tucson stormed the national consciousness, have particular resonance now. "Your job is to be better, and to set standards that those below you have to reach to meet," she wrote in decrying Honors's desire to be like everyone else. "And you have to do this even when it's hard, even when you know you yourself don't quite meet the standards you represent."
Who knows how long the calls for civility will last? Who knows how long it will take for some modicum of civility to take hold? Civility is more than talking nicely with one another and about one another. It's a standard that requires listening to, respecting and maybe even understanding other points of view. And it's about leading others in that direction when their better angels are pushed aside by anger, fear or frustration. Even when it's hard, even when you know you yourself don't quite meet the standard you hold dear.
| January 14, 2011; 11:53 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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