What do these four snapshots have in common? South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson shouts "You lie!" during Pres. Obama's health care speech last week. A talk radio legend says on his show today the congressman shouldn't have made his quickly-proffered apology.
Somebody sends me the link to a YouTube video of cable talk host Sonja Schmidt trashing Elizabeth Edwards for publishing a book where she lays out her troubles with cancer and her philandering spouse, grousing that the media extend her undue sympathy.
And today, in the kitchen of my daughter's sorority where I helped out during "recruitment" week, I hear tales of frat hazing abuse that another volunteer's brother recently endured.
The commonality? Everybody's mean. Joe Wilson couldn't have enough respect for the office of the president to keep his mouth shut. The talk host couldn't allow that the outburst had been rude. Schmidt's catty tirade about Mrs. Edwards was snide and merciless. And the mental abuse that frat boy endured caused anxiety and tears.
I know rudeness and cruelty aren't going away, but I want to stand up for civility. It's fair to criticize Obama's health care plan--and goodness, I certainly do--but let the man speak and then cut his arguments to ribbons. The radio host could have used his platform far more effectively if he'd have dropped defense of Wilson's shout, and instead used the time to emphasize the substance of the president's lies. Schmidt may think the press unjustifiably lauded Mrs. Edwards for coping with physical and marital travails, but talk about the press' bias, not the last attempts at "Resilience" of a woman scorned and terminally ill with cancer.
And as far as the hazing--well, let me tell you a little more about that. The college guy's sister and mom were appalled at the emotional toll of the process, officially against pan-Hellenic rules, which lasted six months. They confronted the freshman with "Now that you see how horrible this is, you'll be the one to stand up to end this kind of abuse." The pledge's response? "Oh no, I'm going to do it too; it's my chance to get back for what was done to me!"
What kind of sick is that?
With just a few days until the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, during which time we are charged to do a "heshbon ha nefesh," an accounting of what we've done wrong, I'm looking at my own actions with enhanced sensitivity. And I'm thinking that all of these nasty behaviors come down to a single cause: arrogance. Anybody who thinks his stature and importance trumps the president's can interrupt a televised speech with a harsh accusation--and be defended by pundits with the same self-aggrandized view. Sure a cable-show host wants to snare viewers with a snickering blast at somebody, but here the real culprit was media bias, not the pathetic, ill wife of an ego so large that a video of his primping already reduced him to ridiculous.
And fraternity hazing is merely a dangerous and sadistic means of bonding boys in a degrading testosterone-fueled alliance so they feel validated and accepted. Collective arrogance, ego-boosting by association.
This week the NY Times Magazine featured a cover story that repeated a maxim every sociology major encounters: Groups exert a powerful influence on their members. Just as one's cohort can elevate, it can debase. That's why it's essential to evaluate the calibur of friends, associates and your chosen milieu to decide whether they provide civilizing, uplifting input or, the opposite. It's too easy to just let things slide by.