I’m sitting in a room with three four-year-olds who are playing peacefully with each other. I’ve got misbehaving grownups on my mind.
Kanye West, for one. Two nights ago he stormed onto the stage at the internationally televised MTV awards, ripped the microphone from a nineteen-year-old’s hand during her acceptance speech, and hollered that the better music video was Beyonce’s. That’s the second time West has jumped on stage to trash someone’s moment. He also hijacked the microphone from a European group called Justice and Simian at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2006, that time filling his much longer tirade with expletives.
Joe Wilson, for another. Last week he shouted “You lie!” during the President’s nationally televised speech. Wilson says he apologized to the President after leaders in Wilson’s own party told him to. I’m not sure if he’s saying this to imply that he wouldn’t have apologized on his own or not. What really caught my ear was when he defended his outburst as a “town hall moment.”
A town hall moment? Now that’s an interesting defense. Are we supposed to say, “Ah, well, never mind, then. You were totally right to express yourself in that way at that moment in that venue then. You had a town hall moment. Now I understand. Pardon me for finding you out of order. Go grab a Fresca and have a seat, the next speaker will be on in two minutes. We want your whistle wet in case another town hall moment presents itself.” A town hall moment… When did it become not only acceptable but model behavior for adults to shout at each other, cuss each other out, grab and shove and hit each other? When that happens in a preschool classroom, it gets you time outs or worse.
As both of these men demonstrate, disrespectful, violent, and vitriolic public behavior is becoming a norm in all public interactions, and I have a theory about it. Have you ever read the articles in an online news outlet, like www.cnn.com? At the bottom of the news articles there’s always comments section, wherein readers can post their reactions, opinions, whatever. Every once in a while I stab myself in the eye by reading the comments. They are mean. Not poorly stated or tactlessly worded, but mean. Downright vicious. Name calling. Insulting. Denigrating. Cruel. It shocks me. There’s no pretense of debate or rebuttal, the entries are overwhelmingly formed like “X is a blankity blank and all you blankity blanks who keep commenting that he isn’t are bigger blankity blank blanks. Blank you!” You can see the same degree of viciousness and blind attack in many blog comments, in discussion groups, even in product reviews on store websites, before they are removed. I believe the anonymous quality of online interaction lets us drop the civility that is required of us in a face-to-face interaction. You would rarely, if ever, say that to a total stranger whom you just walked up to in the mall. Or rather, you wouldn’t in the past. We’re now getting used to spouting vitriol with abandon, with no consequences, and with none of the self-censorship that comes with seeing the pain our words can inflict. It’s become the norm for us to talk to people in that manner online, and now that we’ve been doing it without censorship for several years, it’s spilling over into how we behave face-to-face. We are jumping onto stages and ripping the microphone from people’s hands and trashing them right to their faces. In front of millions of viewers, no less.
I’m all for debate and always have been, regardless of the party affiliation of the man in the Oval Office. That’s what allows our unique country to progress. But Wilson’s and the recent town hall meeting behavior is not debate, that’s name calling and bullying. There has always been angry political protest, and there always will be, but in the recent town hall meeting behavior we have jumped the violence and cruelty to a new level, encompassing greater numbers in demographics never before associated with such antics—including top level politicians during a president’s national address, as Wilson’s “I had a town hall moment” defense acknowledges. This behavior is different. And I wouldn’t accept it from my four-year-olds.
Name calling, teasing, shoving, and interrupting a brother to shout something mean or rude in his face is not allowed. I recently banned the word ‘head’, as innocuous as that is, because it was being used in name calling. I don’t let my sons watch TV because they will see cute cartoon characters calling each other ‘stupid’ or making fun of another character. Children model the behavior they see, even if that behavior is being shown so that we can teach that it’s wrong. Apparently I now have to keep my sons from watching a president’s speech from the House floor. Who knows when a grownup in the audience might have “a town hall moment”? We adults are supposed to be teaching children how to behave, but instead we’re behaving like children. Mean children. Brats.
Name calling, bullying, disrespecting, verbal and physical attacking. No, I definitely wouldn’t accept such behavior from my four-year-olds. Maybe its time we grownups put ourselves in time out to think about our behavior.
David Woollard-Kingston says
You make a very important point here Debbie. For instance – I’ve followed the recent US universal health discussions with interest and it has struck me quite forcibly that civil fact-based argument seems to have gone out of the window and the various lobby groups appear to be competing on grounds of volume and vitriol alone. More worrying is that some ordinary people may become disenfranchised from calm discussion because of the baggage an opinion either way would begin to carry. I’m sure that the reality amongst ordinary people is very different and much calmer and more considered but TV coverage is presenting this as a warzone where those who shout loudest will win.
I’m certainly with you on the inadvisability of small children being exposed to this stuff. Perhaps political discussion and the like should carry an age warning.
Hope you are all well – getting rather autumnal here now.
Karen Coombs says
I completely AGREE! I have been so disgusted with the behavior of these high profile individuals….I just wonder sometimes where the idea of respect has gone, even if you don’t agree with someone, it appears we are sanctioning adult temper tantrums! I don’t allow my almost 4 year that type of acting out!
Amen—- this kind of public outraging has gone the limit. It is primarily started since we have
a new President and Democrats in control and the losing team is very angry and it is
showing everyday on the news— shouting, screaming normal old people carrying signs against our present policies–fearing all kinds of NOT TRUE things they are hearing and
reading about their health care. It makes me unhappy to see my country spreading rumors
amongst us that have NO background proof! I am a loyal American and have voted both
parties at different times in my 84 years of life, people need to cool-down because those
that are trying to tear us down are “happy” to see t he unrest. Is this the country of the
free and the brave? Yes-but not the one my parents taught me to respect. You are doing
a great job with your boys, Debbie. Hugs from bette