As I read the letter to the editor from Norman Sherman, former press secretary to Hubert Humphrey, in the NYT on Feb 15 entitled “Civility in Politics” I could not but reluctantly reflect on the lack of civility in the current presidential campaign. With the exception of several candidates who have now dropped out of the race, the lack of civility is overwhelming. These are the people who pretend to represent the US to the world and, no less important, to our youth.
In his letter, Norman Sherman recalls a time in the recent past when politicians disagreed on issues, but were personal friends. This is no longer true. If there is civility in politics, it is not reflected in the mass media. On the other hand, uncivil acts and statements tend to dominate the news. Bad news sells, and scandal sells even better.
Fortunately there are still a few politicians who understand that civility and even more, empathy, is in our best interests. In his new book “United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good” U.S. Senator Cory Booker writes “I’ve learned that we must be more courageous in the empathy we extend to one another; we must shoulder a deeper responsibility for one another, and we must act in greater concert with one another…It is a refrain I have heard, time and again, and come to revere: the lines that divide us are nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us; despite our very real differences, we share common interests, a common cause, and, incontrovertibly, a common destiny.” To this, all I can say is “Amen!”
In the current presidential campaign, candidates are in the habit of “tweeting” unkind and often untrue snippets about those whom they see as their enemies. Their goal is to have an impact, to influence others to their own way of thinking. In contrast, my wife Malke survived the Holocaust and emerged as one who was very sensitive to the potential violence of language. In her life she strove never to speak a harsh word about another person, and she did not tolerate anyone else speaking in this way either. A few weeks after her death, the director of the hospice service that cared for her called me to share the enormous impact that she had on their entire staff. “What did she do?” I asked. “Nothing,” she replied. “She was just herself.”
I recommend being oneself to all of you. The impact could be enormous.