Is civility in politics an oxymoron?

Part One: I was visiting a friend recently. The conversation at dinner turned to my expressing an opinion about concern over the involvement of the government and the direction our country was heading. She stood up and showed an anger that I had never experienced in our 40-year friendship. Her comment was that since we had a difference in opinion, we could never have a discussion together about politics.

I was stunned at her emotional rejection of my opinion and lack of her emotional restraint. I always thought that we were able to discuss all subjects while honoring our differences of opinions. I saw her verbal attack as rude, uncivil and inconsiderate. I would never have treated her with such disrespect.

Many have had similar social situations. It is a shame that often we are reticent to express our opposing political views for fear of recrimination.

I expect that rudeness in life will occur. The question is how to respond without being uncivil in return. We can limit the emotional impact, but there can still be shock and anger when we are personally attacked. Some political discussions seem to exacerbate differences of opinions with a decline in civility and courtesy. Emotional contagion is often present in political discussions. It is often redirected anger when it is used as a tool to control and dominate those difference values and opinions.

Those who attack and reject the opinions of others are often attempting to gain control over another by using personal attacks and invalidation in order to destroy differing principles.

Focused rudeness is mean-spirited, anger-oriented and disregard for others and their opinions. Unfocused rudeness, while irritating, is more about mindlessness, thoughtlessness and insensitivity. I have found that insecurity and lack of knowledge about issues can often cause one to attack another's personal character.

In America, the First Amendment is about freedom of speech. Each of us has the right to express a thought or opinion if we use tactfulness, kindness and stay with the discussion of issues. "Agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable" is considerate and respectful.

The Pew Research Center statistics show that since 2004 there has been more partisan hostility and rancorous divide. Fifty-three percent of the public does not trust news outlets with information and express much skepticism. Fox News states that its audience consists of 35% Republican, 21% Democrats, and 22% Independents. Their claim of being "fair and balanced" is increasing, with a balance of different parties and moderators expressing their opinions, views and principles.

A survey for political participation at Alleghany College states that since April 2010, 68% of those polled have seen more political discourse, and 41% believe the most recent campaign was worse than in previous elections. Sixty-one percent believe that the negative tone of the campaign hurt our democratic process. All agree on general dislike of political incivility. Forty-four percent believe that compromise is important for elected officials and 54% feel that politicians should stand firm in support of principles.

DIANA OLSON MA AICI CIP, is an etiquette & civility specialist/ image stylist. Contact her at (626) 584-9761 or http://www.dianaolson.com or olsonco465@aol.com.

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