What is wrong with people today? All of society is unhinged and frothing at the mouth. It’s a feeding frenzy. You step one toe out of line and the piranhas bite it off. You dare to take a contrary opinion to someone and hold your horses, you’re about to be tongue lashed, smeared, and character assassinated. Since when did we lose the ability to politely and civilly disagree with each other?
My political hero, the great sage Thomas Jefferson, was a far better man than I am. I am more like John Adams – fiery, stubborn, blunt, unrelenting, and adamant. However, Jefferson’s approach to politics and life was better. His genteel character, calmness, and reasonableness won him friends and even converted many of his enemies to his side. Jefferson once remarked:
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. during the whole of the last war, which was trying enough, I never deserted a friend because he had taken an opposite side; and those of my own state who joined the British government can attest my unremitting zeal in saving their property, and can point out the laws in our statute books which I drew, and carried through in their favor. however I have seen during the late political paroxysm here, numbers whom I had highly esteemed draw off from me, insomuch as to cross the street to avoid meeting me. the fever is abating, & doubtless some of them will correct the momentary wanderings of their heart, & return again. if they do, they will meet the constancy of my esteem, & the same oblivion of this as of any other delirium which might happen to them” (Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, April 22, 1800).
What noble sentiments! Few men exhibit such virtuous character today. We have become polarized, balkanized, divided, and tribalistic. If you choose the opposite on an issue – regardless of how trivial, fleeting, or passe the issue is – you automatically become my enemy. That’s the attitude. A lapse of judgment is considered betrayal. An incorrect viewpoint is condemned as treason. A different perspective, no matter how well articulated and despite whether it comes from a lifelong friend speaking in sincerity, is met with harsh ire, personal aspersions, and unnecessary opprobrium.
It is extraordinarily important to take a stand on issues that matter. It’s crucial to seize upon truth and correct principles and never budge. We must never move an inch on moral problems, revealed wisdom, or natural law. However, society at large is utterly bewildered on how to discern between a rejection of a principle and a personal attack.
Hundreds of times online, I have, in a civil way, disagreed with a principle someone espoused, only to have them react angrily and with unhinged ferocity as if I had attacked their character or insulted their wife. They failed to understand that my rejection of their espoused idea was not a rejection of them, and that my judgement about their proposal had nothing whatsoever to do with my thoughts about them as individuals.
Aren’t we allowed to disagree with ideas and even principles? That doesn’t mean we hate or oppose the person sharing the idea. If that logic was sound, then no family would ever remain intact because no family, no couple, no friends, ever agree 100% of the time. As we all know, though, such logic is wrong.
It’s rather easy to know when someone is attacking you directly versus opposing your ideas if you think with your brain instead of with your emotions. We have lost the art of critical thinking. We don’t know how to analyze words and extract meaning. We are governed by our emotions and preconceived ideas instead of by the facts of the situation at hand.
My advice to everyone, including myself, is this: Stop, I plead with you, stop taking everything personally. And stop, I beg you, stop responding to a civil disagreement with personal attacks. That accomplishes nothing. It is dishonest. And, frankly, it makes you look idiotic to anyone with common sense and self-control.
I named this article “Mountains, Molehills, and Morons” because I like alliteration. Also, the phrase “mountain out of molehill” has been on my mind. As for the third term, the word “moron” is of fairly recent date. It was created in 1910 and refers to adults who have the mental abilities of children. Specifically, it means you have a mental age of between seven and ten. To me, one of the most moronic, or childish, things that we do is make mountains out of molehills – especially in politics. We have lost all sense of proportion, take things out of context, and focus on the messenger instead of the message. This must stop.
I have lost so many friends over the years, including recently, because they fail to differentiate between differences of opinion/principle and personal attacks. They thought every difference of opinion was an attack on their character and they responded with personal smears, insults, and condescending language. Though infrequently, I have also been guilty of this. Nearly all of us have. It is therefore not lightly that I say that weak people respond with personal insults when someone has not insulted them.
The hardest thing is to hold your peace and keep the moral high ground when you are attacked despite having never attacked first and never desiring contention. To remain civil and keep your head held high when others foolishly condemn you, call you ignorant, talk down to you, and insult your character, is an artform and a virtue. It is one I have not mastered fully, but I continuously strive to be like Thomas Jefferson.
More often than not, despite having very strong opinions and using forceful and passionate language, I haven’t been guilty of assaulting people’s character. I have consciously tried to be diplomatic and civil and to focus on principles and messages instead of people and messengers. Despite my intense exterior and my obvious passion for what I believe in and know to be true, I have successfully remained civil in most of my online political interactions. Those who disagree with my assessment are those who can’t differentiate between attacks on ideas and attacks on people.
In most online debates I have had – and I’ve had many – I have initiated the conversation with a definite opinion, backed up by my best logic, and with references to sources. I often include quotes, scripture citations, links, and forth. In the majority of situations, the response has been an immediate attack on my character. Personal attacks. Name calling. Swearing. References to my religion. Etc. When I refuse to join in the mudslinging, the attacks become more heated and devoid of all relation to facts, evidence, or civility. It gets even worse if I ask the other person to clean up their language or to be civil.
I renew my plea for us all to rise above pettiness. I want to be able to have civil conversations on serious issues, to disagree, and to express contrary points of view, without being attacked, having my Mom insulted, having my religion savaged, or being called a traitor, heretic, or an ignorant blankety blank insert your favorite curse word. It’s tiring talking with people who have no sense of proportion, who think it’s ok to insult you because you dared see something through different eyes, or who throw years of friendship to the wind because of the smallest disagreement.
Dear reader, don’t moronically make mountains out of molehills. We all do it at times and we all need to forgive each other for doing so, but let’s be better. Let’s rise above this gross and childish tendency to demean our allies and friends, even our family members, for our every difference – especially the small ones that don’t impinge upon core values. If our Founding Fathers would have bickered and stubbornly denounced each other for every difference of opinion, they would’ve never accomplished anything. They frequently disagreed, even on fundamentals, but they united around what was most important – their Faith, Families, and Freedom.
A little common sense, compassion, and civility can turn those monstrous mountains of discord into trivial molehills of momentary difference that are hardly noticeable and which don’t divide us or break up friendships. Let’s apply reason and discernment to our conversations. Let’s learn to identify when a message is about us and when it is about our principles. An attack upon the latter is not an attack upon the former. Once we learn this difference, we can again communicate competently and improve each other just as iron sharpens iron.
April 5, 2023