Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sarcasm, and the Savior, and Civility

I've been taught we should liken the scriptures to ourselves. I've also been told that the answers to all life's problems can be found in the scriptures.

So, I scurry off to the scriptures to solve this latest dilemma: Should I be allowed a little sarcasm in discussing public affairs? (Actually I don't just now scurry to the topic; I have been thinking about these things for some time.)

I'm partially of the mind I should be allowed some sarcasm. After all, a little sarcasm is nothing but a little rebuke and a little rebuke is sometimes in order.

But, what I write below in this post may lead you to conclude I shouldn't be so inclined to sarcasm, but rather should maintain a no-sarcasm-allowed approach.

I'll tell you, part of the reason I want to be allowed some sarcasm. In the post on this topic a couple days ago, I offered two examples, one with a little sarcasm, and the other stripped -- best I could -- of any sarcasm.

I judged that the first example was more persuasive. I was trying to persuade my reader that we should allow more immigrants in -- and I judge that first example made a stronger, more succinct argument. I do believe we should be allowed -- and are right to want -- to make as strong of an argument as possible. Sometimes (maybe most times), that does cause a little offense. Making a point can cause offense as it suggests the other person is wrong -- and no one likes being wrong. So, they are offended.

So, where to draw the line?

Turn your little fingers over the pages of the Old Testament, coming to I Kings 18, and have before you the story of a prophet who sarcastically taunted the followers of Baal as they tried to call down fire from heaven. The prophets of Baal were having little luck, and the scripture tells us:

"And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."

He mocked them, he taunted them, and he was very sarcastic. Hardly, civil. Hardly civil, at all.

But, despite this example, I hesitate to fully conclude I should allow myself to mock, taunt and be sarcastic.

And, that even after I remember the Savior called some "a generation of vipers," and others "whited sepulchres." Name calling, you say? Perhaps. And, I think of Him tossing the moneychangers out of the temple, telling them they had made it "a den of thieves." That, too, is a little sarcastic.

But, there are other examples to consider, examples where the Savior could have been sarcastic, but opted to not be. My favorite story of Christ being an example to us, in how we should treat others, comes not from his mortal life, but from an event yet to take place. The story comes form Zechariah 13:6.

At the Second Coming, the Jews will meet Jesus, and see the pierce marks from His being nailed to the cross. Now, these are the Jews, the people who crucified Him. He could bear a little anger toward them. If it were us, perhaps if we were asked where the marks came from, we might reply. "O boy, go figure," or "Get a clue." Maybe we would ask back, "Oh, like you don't know?" or crack back that drawn out "Hel-lo" we so love to use.

But when Jesus is asked, "What are these wounds in thine hands?" He answers, "Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends."

Not uncivil at all. Not sarcastic. Not taunting. Not mocking. Instead, His very words offer friendship.



Turn your fingers to another scripture, this one in Mark 2. When they brings one sick of palsy to Him, Jesus sees they have faith that the man could be healed. But, instead of immediately healing him, Jesus says, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee."

Of course, the scribes are outraged. "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?"

Jesus could be more in-your-face in how he replies. He could say, "Good point. Exactly so, So, I'll now heal this man and you will know I am, indeed, God"

Instead, He leaves it to them to figure out that He is, indeed, God. Watch how instead of being sarcastic, or even being so direct as to be overly affronting, He instead softens it. He reasons with them, instead of putting them in their place.

"And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?


"Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?

"But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)

"I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house."

You and I? Would we have been tempted to add a jab? Like, "That quite clearly should show you who I am"?

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Sarcasm and Civility

I'm failing to study civility daily, or at least to write on the topic each day.

So, this day, at least, I repent.

What of sarcasm? I'm in a Facebook discussion and someone suggests Utah is a sanctuary state for undocumented residents. I consider replying:

"Sanctuary? I think that's what someone had in mind when they posted that sign at our border, saying, 'Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .' That sign still stands, but the principle it espouses has gotten lost somewhere along the way."

Actually, I'm not sure that is overly in-your-face sarcasm, but, still, I might do better to lighten it. If I offend someone, I won't be winning them over to my way of thinking. So, I'm better to make the point without the sarcasm.

I might try this:

"I do wish we would be a sanctuary for these people. I like the philosophy expressed by Emma Lazarus. Although she doesn't use the word, she does, in essence, call for us to be a sanctuary.

" 'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddle masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.'

"Not that they oppose the sentiment of that poem, but many feel we simply must limit how many "homeless, tempest-tost" we let in. They want the huddled masses, but do not want the problems they suggest immigrants often bring along with them.

I say, Let them all in, or at least all not found with criminal backgrounds."

The second take makes it clear I am not accusing anyone of not being against letting the tired and poor in. So, it is more civil. The second take also takes the time to state why people do not want immigrants. Stating the other person's position is a form of civility. Thirdly, it cuts the slight edge of sarcasm out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

With Same Judgment, Judge Ourselves

In pointing our finger at the undocumented, suggesting they are thieves for coming into a land that doesn't belong to them, and using the analogy of a child whose dad steals him a bicycle . . .

I wonder if we are looking at the mote in our brother's eye, but not the beam in our own.

The analogy has it that just because a dad steals a bicycle, and it isn't the child himself doing the stealing, that doesn't mean it is okay for the child to keep the bike.

The analogy is used to justify taking away instate tuition for children of undocumented immigrants.

Long ago, before you and I thought to consider this issue, another version of it was played out. There was a people in possession of this land. They'd had it for a long, long time. Then, along came a new people, coming from England, and from Spain, and from Scandinavia, and eventually from all touches of the globe.

They, just like the immigrants today, saw a place they liked, and came here. They didn't ask for permission -- at least the first ones didn't. They didn't think too bad of themselves for taking another man's land. I don't know, maybe because they considered the people here to be no more than savages, it was quite okay to just come in and take their land. Maybe sometimes they asked, but a lot of times they not only didn't ask, they actually kicked out the people who were here to make room for themselves.

They force the natives into pockets called reservations. Remember the Trail of Tears? Yes, they rounded them up and marched them right off their own lands.

Thievery, of course, flat-out thievery.

Then, their children grew up here, and their children's children. And the children (that would be us) kept the land.

Just because a dad steals a bicycle for you doesn't mean its yours to keep? So, we should not be giving instate tuition to children of undocumented residents?

Well, years have passed since we confined the people who once owned this land to reservations, years since we took their land away. Now, their cousins are coming from the south, coming into "our land," coming without permission.

And, we are outraged.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

If Thou Wouldst be Civil, be Confident

"He exudes confidence."

Such is the common phrase used to describe an uncommon variety of man. What exactly does it mean to "exude"? Does it mean confidence pours out of the pores of their skin? No, of course not. It means their mannerisms suggest confidence.

I have been trying to post often -- sometimes daily -- on civility in public discussion, and I think to hurry out a thought on this tonight.

The absence of confidence is fear. It, too, "exudes." I'm told dogs can smell fear, but don't know whether that is true.

I do know, though, people can sense it. Fear rubs people the wrong way. An edgy, nervous type attracts suspicion. It is harder to be congenial, harder to convey a spirit of friendliness, if you are fearful. If you would convey goodness, make friends, and offer goodwill, put fears aside. Being confident can lend to civility.

As the scripture says, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (II Timothy 1:7)

Let's Not Yank College from Them

Yanking education away from many of our youth might not be the best thing legislators achieve this year.

I understand the logic behind HB 191. These children were not born in the U.S., and never since moving here have they established legal residency. Their parents are not paying taxes. So, why should they get instate tuition rates?

I would remind you, though, that they are not legal residents only because we do not allow them to be legal residents. The same is true as to why they don't pay taxes. We don't let them. Feeling justified for punishing someone for not doing what you won't allow them to do is circular reasoning.

And, circular reasoning -- for those who studied that in their own higher education -- is a fallacy of logic.

We have a chance to treat people right. Further oppressing the oppressed, I hope, is not what we will choose to do. These are good people. Many of their parents came here wanting no more than to work, seeking to earn their way by the sweat of their brow. Somehow, though, that has offended us. (Yes, I know they came without paperwork, and that is, indeed, a wrong.) Still, if all our people were so inclined -- wanting no more than to work and willing to move to another country to get it -- we would be better served. We would be a better society and a better country.

Now, their children want to go to college. And, again, we are offended. No, it doesn't make sense, to me.

Please, legislators, do not do this. If you want to right a wrong, instead change Utah Code 53B-8-102 to allows a resident to be what the dictionary says it really is, someone who lives here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

We Would Cast Them Out?

Many of the undocumented are here simply seeking work -- an honorable enough endeavor, one would think. Often they are poor. Yet, here we are targeting this poor class of people who cross our borders because they WANT to work? Are we to tell such people they are the scum of our society simply because they don't have paperwork? Do we really want to come up with all the new legislation we can to drive them out of from among us? Isn't there something else more worthy of our scorn? True, not all the undocument are here simply seeking work -- they come for many reasons -- but many are, indeed, wanting no more than to work. Have we become a society that seeks out and chases away such souls?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There's Room for Paint in Civility

Okay, we avoid the extreme labels if we are to be civil. But, there is room for characterizations. Just be restrained. If you feel a person was dishonest in something they said, saying, "He missed on the truth on this issue," as mentioned in the last blog, might be acceptable. That doesn't characterize him as a liar for everything he says, and it even avoids the harshness of the word "lying," but it does convey that you don't believe the truth was told.

Instead of saying a person is an "idiot," or or "just plain stupid," choose wording that doesn't point directly at him or her, and is not so harsh. Perhaps, "We are failing to be wise on this."

Speak softy, and don't even carry a big stick.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heavy Labels Kill Foes . . . And Civility

If thou wouldst be the victor, swing the heaviest stick.

"Idiot," "Stupid," "Imbecile." It's hard for a person to be worse than those things. Call your opponent the most vile thing you can. Call him "vile." Call him "wicked." When you pick a label, pick the heaviest one you can, and therefore the most effective.

Thing is, people will believe you. They will be shamed into siding with you. After all, who wants to side with an idiot.

Don't simply say, "He missed on the truth on that one," and don't even settle for the very hard, "He's a liar." Swing the stick as hard as you can, and say, "He can't open his mouth without lying."

Whenever you debate, toss in one or two knock-out labels, and then say you are just telling it like it is. They are fun to use, and just knowing your opponent really fits them makes you feel good about disliking him or her.

But remember, using a heavy label is not only one of the most effective ways to turn people against another person, it is also a pretty good way to ensure you own incivility.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leaders Seek Not to Find, But to Correct Faults

Many, when they become leaders, assume their role means they are to judge people, correct people and put people in their place.

Not so.

Oh, it is good to correct things. Yes, that is leadership. But if you would be a leader, do not seek out the faults of others, just to running up a score of finding errors. Do not think that is your job. The word "leader" implies that you lead them away from their faults. True leaders only seek faults so they can correct them, not so they can condemn those who have them.

Yes, sometimes the person with the fault has it knowingly and is fully aware of their error. But, even in those instances, there are times you can change them, turn them around, make them see the error of their way and turn over a new leaf.

If you can get them to do that, that is leadership. Leadership is tallied by how many faults are found in people, but it is the tally of how many people are taught to do things right.

It could be said the leader who finds a fault, but simply gets rid of the person or condemn them, is not a leader at all, for the word "leader" implies leading them to do things right. Managers fire. Leaders correct. No, managers who don't know how to lead, fire. Leaders, instead of firing them, inspire those under them to become better.

Leadership is not fault-finding, but problem-solving.

Leadership is not tearing others down, it is building them up.

Yes, you have little choice but to get rid of someone for a serious offense, and that at the very first time it happens. But, unless it is a serious offense, if you can change them, change them. If you cannot change them, then get rid of them. Always remember, most of the faults you find are not instances of blatantly and willingly doing wrong, but of not knowing how to do it right.

Leadership is not finding fault, but correcting it. It is not lying it wait to to uncover every mistake a person might make, but being able to lift that person out of s mistake when it is found. Anyone can find a mistake in another person if they go looking for it.

What does this have to do with civility? Much. Those who enter public discourse, who debate public issues, usually are seeking for change. They truly believe adopting what they are calling for will make the world a better place. If they are seeking to make the world better, they can only achieve it through principles of leadership.

So, if you would change the world, consider that the best way to go about it is to be civil. Seek not to find fault, but to correct it. Take aim not at people, but at problems. Seek not to castigate others for their views, but to help them understand why their views are wrong. They are going to be around long after your discussion with them. If you only offend them, they will only become more dogged in their views, and they will keep on spreading their opinions to others. But, if you lead them to see things differently, it will be one more opinion on your side, one more voice joining yours, increasing the odds your point of view will win.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

If Thou Wouldst be Civil, be Reserved

So, Jerry Sloan resigned and I rushed to judgment. I speculated -- along with most -- as to why he resigned. I speculated about how the team will do without him. I speculated as to as to whether Deron Williams will stick around after next year.

Not all those speculations should be taboo (Hey, where would we be if we couldn't speculate about our sports teams?), but it did help me realize what a speculator I have become.

As I thought a titch about it, I realized I have changed -- and need to change back.

Now, there was the day -- oh so long ago -- when I lived closer to the journalist's maxim (as I was a journalist): Discuss current affairs as an observer, not as a participant. Be detached, not taking either side. Be objective, not subjective.

Now, having an opinion is not bad. And, I am no longer a journalist and do not need to keep so unattached.

But, a titch of the journalist is to be borrowed from, if I would be wise, if I would be civil.

Show restraint. Do not rush to judgment. Don't feel a need to offer an opinion just to be offering an opinion. Wait until you have the facts. If you express an opinion before having all the facts, express that that is what you are doing, and express that your opinion could change once you learn more. No one knows all about all issues, and it is civil to acknowledge your weakness instead of asserting you have answers when you don't even fully know the issue.

Having knowledge about an issue is more important that having an opinion about it. Make that your first objective. Learn first. Speak second.

And, when expressing your opinion, there are times when you should acknowledge both sides of the issue. Restating the opponent's position -- thus acknowledging it -- is a form of civility.

Having knowledge about an issue is more important than having an opinion about it. Be reflective, not only in coming to an opinion, but in how you express it. It is a show of respect to acknowledge the salient points of the other side of the issue. The civil man offers a reserved opinion, and talks of issues evenhandedly.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sloan Provides Civility Lesson as He Resigns

I'm not coming to a conclusion as to what speculation and what gossip belongs in public discourse.

But, the past day, I thought a bunch on it, thanks to coach Jerry Sloan's resigning from the Utah Jazz.

There was all kinds of speculation and innuendo surrounding his stepping aside. I entered the discussion with a relish, and not much restraint.

But, supposing Jerry did what he did because someone frustrated him, I do see an example of civility in how he reacted. Twice he was asked a question, and twice, rather than answering the question directly, he redirected his answer another direction.

Call it evading the question, if you will. He gave his own reasons for resigning and left it at that. He didn't give a "yes" or "no" on the reason fed to him. There are times when answering a question "yes" or "no" should be done. But, other times, a person should be allowed to choose his or her own words for what he or she wants to convey, wants to reveal. Requiring a "yes" or "no" can be a mild form of placing words in another person's mouth.

I repeat, there are times when a "yes" or "no" is expected. I just judge the Sloan press conference not to be one of them.

Had Sloan answered "yes," it would have cast a negative image on another person. It certainly is civil to restrain from casting another person in a negative light. I don't know Coach Sloan's reason for not answering "yes" or "no," but I can see it might have protected someone.

So, among the things I learned from this, is that it is not always uncivil to avoid answering with a "yes" or "no." And, it follows that there might be times it is uncivil to require a "yes" or "no."

I learned civility can be resisting endorsing the wording given by another person.  A person might say, "Don't you think . . ." and rather than agreeing, the better answer sometimes is, "Well, what I think, is . . ." and then giving an appraisal that falls outside of "Yes, I agree" or "No, I don't think so."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More

Although it seems obvious passing along negative things about people has to be part of public discourse, I find myself pausing at yesterday's post, thinking on the post from the day before.

Passing along the negative news about Huntsman definitely hurts him. If I truly loved him, would I pass something that hurts another person?

Perhaps a few checks are in order before negativity is passed along, even when the negativity has become widely disseminated as news. One, Should the information impact whether my listener will vote for the person being discussed? If not, I have no need to pass the information along. In the case of Huntsman, I have to decide whether his level of belief in the Church is a matter that should impact whether people vote for him. I believe a person should be elected on the merits of what they stand for, regardless of their church. I have voted against those of my faith. But I do believe religion should be a factor, though not the leading one.

Two . . . I'll come back to this post tonight. 'Tis time to go to work.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Repeating Negative Thoughts, Is That Civility?

I'm still a thinking on it, but my thinking at the moment is I should allow myself some room in what ill information I pass along about others.

If a person didn't say anything negative about another person, he could hardly so much as discuss current affairs. Could he speak much of the Egyptian unrest without speaking of Hosni Mubarak and why so many Egyptians do not like him?

Could he speak of immigration and undocumented residents without something negative about someone being said?

The issue, then, is where to draw the line. What of news articles suggesting Jon Huntsman Jr. is not tied to his religion strongly? I obviously have decided that, too, is within the perimeters of what can be passed along, or I wouldn't be mentioning it at this time.  Huntsman has been quoted as saying his credentials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are soft, and he has been quoted as saying, "I can't say I'm overly religious."

Salacious gossip? Perhaps. But I do agree it belongs within civil public discourse. One could argue that that is because he is a public figure, one who could again run for office, and therefore the public has the right to know.

Is that why? Or would we say neighbors have the right to know the level of his testimony, even if he were not a government official, and being touted as a presidential candidate? I don't know that I have to come to a conclusion on that, as my reflections are primarily on public discourse, but most would surely agree we have less right, less need, to pass along salacious gossip when it is about a private individual, maybe no need to pass it along, at all.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Scriptures Offer the Real Key to Civility

Would it be asking too much for those in the public arena to love each other?

I mean really love each other, candidates loving their opponents, backers of abortion loving opponents of abortion, Tea Partiests loving Obama-ites.

Hey, "What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. It's the only thing, that there's just too little of." (old Carpenters' song)

I have been studying and reflecting on what civility is this past week, and thought to save this post for today, as it is Sunday. This post, though, offers the best advice of all for how to be civil. For, we can make all the lists we like of what and what not to do, but the best way to be civil is to let it come from the heart. Sincerely and honestly love all men and you won't need the rules, for civility will come naturally. If you really love someone, you will treat them right.

"All you need is love. Love. Love is all you need." (old Beatles' song)

"For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh." (Matthew 12:34)

Learning rules and guidelines -- I will continue to do so -- is good. But, I know they will not serve me as well, not bind me to being civil, as much as will just developing an attitude of love for all men. "Charity never faileth." (I Corinthians 13:8)

The scripture of Utah's largest religion adds to that. "Wherefore cleave unto charity," says Moroni 7:46, "which is the greatest of all." (And, indeed, charity -- love -- is the greatest key to civility.) "For all things must fail --" (even as all the lists of dos and don'ts will fail) "But charity . . . endureth."

"A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit. . . A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good. . . .  for of the abundance of his heart, his mouth speaketh." (Luke 6:43-45)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Gentle Answer Turneth Away Wrath

'Tis not Sunday, and I thought to offer a scriptural take on civility come Sunday, but how about I jump a day early?

More thought on yesterday's post. While offering no correction would be a polite course if someone got Gabrielle Giffords' name wrong and called her Gabrielle Griffins, that does not mean a polite correction would be wrong.

But it must be polite.

"The Arizona representative's last name is Giffords, not Griffins." A simple statement such as that will be enough, then letting it go and moving on. What will matter, is the tone with which the correction is delivered. Speak your words in an apologetic tone. Sound and be forgiving. Do no let harshness enter your voice, nor malice, nor haughtiness. Do not be condescending.

Be meek.

As I thought on this, it occurred to me this is a good rule anytime a correction is offered, whether it be for something inconsequential, or for something substantive to the debate.

And, so it is that the scripture (Proverbs 15:1) offers this advice to those in the political arena: "A Soft Answer Turneth Away Wrath." I think perhaps to change one word, although both work, and offer the advice as, "A gentle answer turneth away wrath."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Not Every Mistake Calls for Correction

Call Gabrielle Giffords, Gabrielle Griffins, and you could be in for a lashing. In the court of debate, any advantage to be found is often relished.

The person with a civil tongue, though, well might not even correct such an error.

Other errors demand correction.

Take the immigration issue. Some have suggested Utah implement a program allowing the immigrants to work here. No, that won't work, as federal authorization for work is required under 8 USC 1324a, comes the reply. Well, comes the counter response, we will get a federal waiver that allows those from other lands to work here.

No such waiver covers such work, comes the reply.

Sometimes, the corrections go back and forth, one correcting the other, and the other correcting the person who corrected him/her. In the example above, if a person were to find a waiver that applied to immigration, they would offer that as a correction.

So, the civil person considers which errors are in need of correction, and which are not. The civil person does not simply look for something to make the other person look bad.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reflections on Civility, Day 4

Laughing at others is impolite. What is the phrase, "Were not laughing at you; we're laughing with you"? If you cannot say you are laughing with them, then you are probably laughing at them. And, if you say you are laughing with them, double-check your feelings, lest you really be justifying yourself and actually be laughing at them.

Yes, sometimes, the things we do are funny and it makes others laugh. Othertimes, laughing is no more than a outward expression of a mocking feeling toward another.

What of hard laughter, of loud laugher? Not all laughter comes from the same heart. There is joyful laughter, hearty laughter, and . . . loud (sometimes even angry) laughter. I pictured this form of laughter in my mind and noticed I don't hear it coming from those I admire most, not from people I consider honest-of-heart, caring individuals.

So, consider the sound of your own laughter. Joyful laughter is good. Tickled-pink laughter is good. Great-relief laughter is good. But there is a laughter that bears the banner of hate. Listen to the tone, and avoid the hard-edged laughter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Studies in Civility, Page Three

Today, I was biting my lip as I and a friend discussed a public figure.

Is it civil to pass along information, albeit perhaps true information, when it reflects negatively upon someone?

Remember what Thumper learned from his dad: "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

What about if it is true? And what about if the person you're talking about might not even mind? Or, are those just two of the ways for justifying a little gossip?

I did share the information with my friend, deciding it had been in the newspaper. But, I later had this thought: Newspapers should publish such information, but that doesn't mean I should be quick to pass it along. Newspapers have an obligation to provide news about public figures, so they should. But, do I have such an obligation? What if the information I have is about an elected official, and it affects whether you support the person? Don't I have an obligation to pass it on, so you can make a better, more-informed decision?

I'm still considering that, as I head for bed.