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civility

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

When she was little, my daughter loved to build sand castles. She’d put wet sand in a bucket, gently pull the bucket back and marvel at the details in the castles that came out.

My son wasn’t as interested in building castles. He derived special pleasure out of stomping on the castles she made. It wasn’t just that it gave him power over the sand: he also felt power over his older sister, who was furious with him for crushing her castles.

While I tried to reason with him, which is almost as effective today as it was when he was two, I came up with an alternative plan that required additional energy from me, but that created peace on the beach. I’d quickly put together a ring of 15 castles, grabbing wet sand and dumping it several feet from where my daughter was working on her creation.

Like a young Olympic sprinter, my son would race over to the collection of castles and stomp all over them, while my daughter slowly built her own city of sand.

These days, it seems, we are surrounded by people eager to stomp on everyone else’s sandcastles.

Sure, it’s satisfying to feel the figurative sand in our toes and to revel in tearing down what other people have created.

But, really, given all the challenges of the world, I think we should ask a few questions of all those people who are so eager to belittle, attack and undermine others. What’s your solution? What are you doing better? How would you fix the problem?

Insulting others for their efforts, their awkwardness or their perceived flaws often seems like a form of ladderism. No one wants to be on the bottom rung of a ladder, so people try to push others down or to shout to anyone who will listen about how much better they are than the people below them. That seems to be a sign of weakness or insecurity, reflecting the notion that other people are below them.

In addition to dumping on others, we live in a society of people for whom hearing views that differ from their own somehow turns them into victims. Surely we have more choices than simply, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If someone doesn’t agree with you, maybe it’s worth finding out why.

Anger, frustration and hatred, while they may make us feel slightly better in the moment, aren’t solutions and they don’t improve our world. They are a form of destructive energy, like stomping on sand castles.

We should ask more of ourselves and from our leaders. I’m tired of hearing about politicians who will fight for me. I don’t want to send people into office to fight against others who are trying to do the best they can for the country. I want leaders who will learn, listen and, gasp, reach across the aisle in the search for solutions.

While platforms aren’t as sizzling as slogans or take downs, they include ideas and potential solutions.

Civility makes it possible for us to hear and learn.

We have enough threats to our lives without needing to turn against other people or to give in to the urge to crush other people’s sandcastles to feel better. We don’t all have to be best friends, but it’d be nice to look forward to a holiday season and the start of a new year that focused on a shared sense of purpose. We need better ideas, not better ways to attack.

Photo from Pexels

While many are hoping to return to normal after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we’re hoping for a return to civility.

Last week a woman we know was attending an outdoor event. Like many, she made sure she put her mask on in the car so she wouldn’t have to fiddle with it at the gate. While walking along the street, with a couple of people in front of her and a few behind, a man in a pickup truck yelled, “Take off your masks.”

Why was this necessary?

On a national level a video, showing actor Ricky Schroder harassing a Costco employee because he asked the actor to wear a mask, has gone viral. Even though the actor later apologized for his behavior, why did he get in the face of someone who was just doing their job?

Why did he feel it was important for him to force his belief system on someone who was just being cautious during a major health crisis?

Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing themselves, except in certain crowded settings and venues, such as when taking public transportation. There is also another caveat, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations apply. This exception also includes local business and workplace guidance.

The new CDC guidelines were adopted by New York State May 19. However, people who are not vaccinated still need to wear masks. Unfortunately, not everyone has the integrity to be honest about not being vaccinated.

As we move forward, there also will be people who, even though they are vaccinated, are still anxious, especially since there is a small chance they can still come down with COVID-19 to some degree. Let them wear their masks without being harassed.

Listen, we understand: No one was prepared to be enlisted to fight in a war against an invisible enemy — a virus that spreads without warning. But we American soldiers this time around weren’t asked to give up our everyday lives to risk those same lives on a battlefield. We were asked to hunker down to decrease the chances of people getting seriously ill, even die, from a new virus. We were asked to live life differently so our hospitals wouldn’t be overcrowded, where patients would have to wait for care, or health care professionals would be put in a position where they would need to decide who to treat.

While many feared our rights would be taken away from us, Americans still have all of their rights intact more than a year later after we were asked to stay home as much as possible and mask up when we left our homes.

It’s a shame that a health crisis had to be made political, making our country even more divisive. It’s time to realize that everyone’s journey has been different during the pandemic, and everyone’s fears during this pandemic varied. Some were fortunate that the virus didn’t touch their lives while others lost loved ones.

Every once in a while it pays to take a step back and consider how others feel, maybe even respectfully ask them where they are coming from in the situation.

We still need to practice patience as we slowly but surely come out of this pandemic, although we may be subject to a new, unsuspected virulent strain. Showing a little respect for others and being a bit kinder never hurts to make things a little more bearable.

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Where people live, conflicts thrive.

It’s inevitable. Get two people in a room for long enough and, eventually, they will find elements about the other person that irritate them. It’s what drives people to watch some reality TV shows. Participants can’t stand each other, they call each other names and, before you know it, someone is screaming at someone else and the viewing audience at home is rubbernecking through the drama.

When it happens to other people, it’s entertainment. When it happens to us, it can hurt.

Why do we care what other people think? We know that some people will find fault with everyone — their mothers, siblings and bosses — making criticism inevitable and, ultimately, meaningless.

If someone stood on the side of the road and yelled “Duck!” often enough, pretty soon people would stop ducking, would stop looking for ducks, and, like so many other noises around them, wouldn’t hear the warning anymore.

And yet, when someone we know or even someone we’ve recently met indicates a disdain for us, scowls at our presence, or undermines our abilities, intelligence or effort, we feel cut to the quick. That person might just be repeating the same criticisms to us that he or she levies at everyone all the time.

It’s like a fortune cookie. We read something that says, “You need to think twice before taking advice.” Wow, we think, how incredibly insightful, even as we ignore the irony that we are taking advice from a small slip of paper crushed into a Pac-Man shaped cookie. Someone recently gave me advice that seems valuable, like quitting a job I hate, but maybe that person just wants to take my job or doesn’t want to hear me complaining. Maybe that advice doesn’t really apply to me after all.

The same holds true for insults, criticism and nastiness. It could apply to us or it could just be fortune cookie nastiness, conjured up by someone who may not enjoy the life he or she leads, trying to make everyone as miserable as them.

Insults are ubiquitous. Much of the time, however, the insult is an opinion, not a fact. There are times when an admonishment such as “You weren’t driving well” is accurate, particularly if you were driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

We don’t immediately imagine the person doing the insulting might be sharing an opinion about us that we would almost instantly dismiss if it were about our spouse, our children, our parents or our close friends. We think, “Maybe I am terrible at this,” or “Maybe I should be embarrassed.”

People make puppets, write stories about fictional characters, draw cartoons and imaginary figures because they want to control something.

But just because they want control doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Even assuming someone doesn’t like you, your appearance or your ideas, so what? Our preferences are so subjective that we can’t or shouldn’t try to please everyone.

We don’t have to play those reindeer games. We can disagree and express our opinions without attacking someone else. We follow whatever rules we set for ourselves and don’t need to fight fire with fire, hit back 10 times harder or show that we mean business. We can be more graceful than our detractors.

When someone attacks us, we don’t have to act as if we’re wearing a target. We can look at that person, put a slow smile on our face and say, “It’s too bad you feel that way. Maybe a good fortune cookie would cheer you up?”