Something unfortunate is happening among our political, media and public service. They have forgotten to be civil, respectful and to follow the rule of law that says everyone is innocent until proven guilty – although these same folks often declare that they are Upholders of The Rule of Law!
They ignore the political courtesy that criticism belongs to the deed, not to the doer.
This started prior to COVID-19 but has accelerated over the past few months to a feverish babble that nobody listens to anymore. Civility has not only been lost but banished. It is no longer enough to say, “I disagree with the policies you are promoting and your conclusions!” now the speaker seems compelled to say, “I disagree with you. You are an idiot and a jerk, and not only that, but you have evil motives!”
The media goes one step further, employing derogatory (or laudatory) adjectives, “The lying politician is an idiot and a jerk, who makes unfounded comments … and has evil motives!” Or they might fawn over the politician if they like him or her, attributing virtues that have no basis in anything but opinion.
The day of writing this, one Ontario civil servant called out another one, saying he hadn’t done his job and was ineffective, rather than simply pointing to factual deficiencies in the result.
This behaviour is appalling. It sets up anxieties in its listeners and compels them to come to the side of the accuser or jump to the defence of the accused, whether there is any evidence, either way, or not. Worse, people become disillusioned about those in leadership positions. Moreover, all you need do these days is accuse someone of something and the guilty verdict is immediate and unrelenting. Not only is the individual under the microscope “fat, ugly, lying and has evil motives”, but he is are definitely guilty of whatever someone may have accused him of, and should be fired, banned or maybe burned at the stake!
Of course, I am exaggerating, but not much. Just listen to cable news to hear over-the-top statements made as part of the normal discourse. Commentators have no compunction about saying the most defamatory things about others. Experts call their colleagues “mistaken” if they disagree with the anointed opinion of the day. And those “deniers” are never allowed to comment again.
Nor is it just the media. Politicians, who should have been trained in the art of diplomacy and parliamentary language, have forgotten or choose to ignore all they were taught. While some still use the “my honourable colleague” address in the House, they don’t hold back when it comes to other forms of communication. Nor does this take place only on social media. What would once have been considered libellous comments are uttered on television talk shows and repeated as “news” in the dailies.
Elected members think it is okay to accuse opposing parties of being liars, of having ulterior and base motives, of not caring about Canadians (or whatever province they represent), of not doing their jobs and it goes on and on. Many of these jibes are very personal and many are hurtful – and are unsubstantiated opinion and probably not true.
Party-to-member communications are filled with the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric. I just won’t read it. I don’t need to hate or disparage the opposition to oppose their policies. There are as many good as bad people in every social order and no political party harbours more of the “bad” ones than any other – or the “good” ones, either.
Not long ago, I used a party website to comment on the futility of using of inflammatory language, hoping to get the attention of some elected members, saying much the same as above, but couching it more delicately. I was thoroughly beaten up, verbally, by many of the other members of the group and barred from posting anything more by the administrators!
That points to the other trend: if someone doesn’t accept your point of view, you abuse them and shun them and kick them out of the group. There is meant to be one point of view and one point of view only and if that view is supported by a friendly scientist or two, then it is gospel. Because Science (or the “expert”) is the new god, even though, just as in religion, the “gods” have many shades of opinion and seldom agree unless they have a sheep-like nature and just want to get along.
What a dreadful mistake communicators are making. Kids, when told things they don’t want to hear, might stick their fingers in their ears and babble, lalalalala, to shut out the words. For many, that is figuratively what is happening now. The language is so horrifying that we just stop listening. Many have abandoned Facebook and Twitter for the same reason.
Politicians who use a delicate touch over the sledgehammer will be far more effective. If an opposing member doesn’t agree with the Prime Minister, they should say, “I don’t agree with the Prime Minister (or the Premier or the minister),” and state why, without casting aspersions on his character, his antecedents and his motives.
As for the media, they should be banned from using adjectives all together. We do not need the opinion of a reporter or journalist to tell us what to think. Citizens will draw their own conclusions from the facts. As for public servants, it is their job to keep their opinions to themselves.
My best advice from the lofty height of my great age and experience? Cool it, folks. As our grandmothers told us, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”