Monday, January 01, 2007

Column 89 - civility

I’ve spent the past week or so in Hawai’i on vacation, and while I’m here, as I always do, I’ve been reading the local newspapers. One thing that struck me here is that the Hawai’i legislature has overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses, the recently re-elected Governor is a Republican. Despite this disparity, the legislative and executive branches seem to work together well and accomplish a great deal.

Interestingly enough in addition, the letters to the editor in the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin are quite civil. Writers certainly do not hold back on their opinions but they state those opinions without personal attacks and name-calling. Friends and family here who read the Bonanza are quite surprised and disconcerted at the nastiness of letters to the editor in our little paper.

I wonder why this is so. Are people in the Aloha state somehow more polite? Are they smarter? Or does the balmy island weather just take their edge off? Or is there just a small group of people in Incline who prefer personal attacks and name-calling to reasoned discourse?

I think I speak for Jim Clark and Andy Whyman when I say that those of us who write opinion columns in the Bonanza try to keep those columns reasoned and on the topic. We don’t expect everyone to agree with us or even anyone to agree with us – these are, after all, our own opinions – but it’s interesting to me that there are four or five people who seem to think that vituperation is a clever or intelligent response.

When I began to write my column and then again when I ran for office last year, a great many people told me they hoped I had a “thick skin,” and for the most part I think I do. But at the same time I have to wonder what motivates people who think that the fact that Andy or Jim or I state our opinion in a public forum gives them license for personal attacks and name-calling.

To give these individuals their due, I guess it takes a modicum more courage and integrity to write a signed letter to the editor (the Bonanza doesn’t accept unsigned letters) than it does to flame someone anonymously on the web, but I don’t think it’s that much more. I don’t doubt that they have friends who prefer to remain anonymous and who cheer them on, and I guess that’s a plus.

Still I have noted that I never see these individuals at IVGID meetings, particularly the ordinary meetings, or active in Rotary or Parasol or other community activities. Maybe they think their contribution lies in the supposed cleverness of their shots at those who do, but I have to say that after being in Hawai’i it just seems petty and nasty.

So I’ll keep writing and speaking out, as I’m sure will Jim and Andy and others, and I won’t give the snipers the satisfaction of our silence or withdrawal. I just wish they’d come up with something useful to say.

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