Pause for Political Politeness

October 4, 2012 — Leave a comment

One of the greatest privileges for those of us lucky enough to be exposed to many cultures is the opportunity to learn different superstitions and manners. I have never lived in North Africa or the Middle East and so am sketchy on customs from that part of the world, but this morning in suburban Houston I learnt one from Egypt that was charming.  I was told that in order to ensure a safe and healthy return when leaving a house always take two steps away from the door before turning back for one to close it. I like that.

Now anyone with a passing interest in America is no doubt aware that there will be a presidential election in November. Last night was the first debate between the two contenders, which was moderated by the respected journalist Jim Lehrer. Today the airwaves, social media and Twitter in particular have been in overdrive with the general consensus being that Mr. Romney performed better against an unusually lacklustre President Obama. It is probably worth noting that Mr. Romney has had the benefit of time in preparing for the event whereas the President has been a little tied up with matters of state. That aside it was pleasant to note the general decorum of both men, which I think speaks to their inherent personalities and upbringing. They were civil.

I mention this because opening the paper this morning sent me in a downward spiral at the general lack of good role models that jump off the printed page, spew forth from the radio or is gleefully shown on our televisions in the form of reality entertainment.

What set me on my rant was the rudeness of the lawyer who felt the need to email a television anchor in Wisconsin, Jennifer Livingston, to harangue her about her size. Ms. Livingstone by the way is not enormous.  Mr K.W. Krause wrote, “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.” He went on about the dangers of obesity and the importance of promoting a “healthy lifestyle”. Who I wonder made him the lifestyle csar? It was Ms. Livingston’s husband who, infuriated at the hectoring tone of the email, posted it to his Facebook page in the hope it would highlight the unpleasantness of bullying, whatever the age of the recipient. It is particularly relevant as October is National Bullying Prevention month.

No one is denying either extreme of the weight spectrum is good but to attack someone through the relative anonymity of cyberspace is unbecoming to say the least. I suppose we should be grateful that Mr. Krause had the balls to sign his name, many who use the Internet for malicious intent do not, instead hiding behind an avatar or pseudonym. But he was not polite, and I don’t think a good role model himself.

A little further down the page of the Houston Chronicle a headline about American Idol touted, “The claws come out, but is it to boost curiosity?” Two new judges, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, neither apparently renowned for their humility, held a heated argument in public involving a lot of swearing, shouting and accusations of divadom; definitely not role model material, whether their performance was to better ratings or not, for the legions of young women who aspire to a career on the stage.

Neither the lawyer nor the pop stars would seem to understand the importance of civility or that a polite putdown is so very much more effective than a rude one; that the world really does go around better if people can be civil, no matter their beliefs, their colour or indeed their weight.

So thank you Mr. President and Mr. Romney for last night being good role models and showing that politics whilst rarely clean can at least be polite. Maybe we need to consider my Egyptian friend’s two steps forward, or maybe two moments to think before we speak. That pause for thought might make a bully think for just a second what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of unpleasant and rude remarks.

It might also remind us that we are all, whether prima donnas, presidents or parents, role models for our children.

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