Folks from the right are hurling vicious epithets at politicians on the left. Those on the left are snarling ugly depictions of some on the right. We in the middle are caught in the crossfire. And that’s been going on right here in the happiest place in America.
I suspect I speak for a lot of us when I suggest that everyone just dial it back a notch or three. We need to celebrate diversity of thought, not pummel those with whom we may disagree. Civil discourse should be, above all else, civil. As Dwight D. Eisenhower advised, “This world of ours must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”
People may argue over what the Framers intended when they adopted the second amendment to our Constitution, but the first amendment is clear: We all have the right of free speech. That includes the right to criticize government and to promote ideas, even unpopular ones. When people are abused solely for the views they express or for the legitimate actions they may take, not only the hate hurlers are diminished, but all of us in this society are diminished somewhat as well.
If the folks on the extremes feel a need to harbor hatred for those on the other side, so be it. Just do the majority of us in the middle the courtesy of keeping your ugly remarks about others to yourselves.
Let me now suggest that every elected officeholder and every candidate for elective office in the county sign a strict pledge to conduct themselves in a manner that is civil, honest, and respectful toward all people, especially those with whom they may disagree. The complete text of the pledge I’m advocating is simple and straightforward:
I pledge that my conduct and the conduct of my supporters, employees, contractors, and others with whom I associate will abide by the following terms, and that I will immediately renounce and disavow anyone speaking or acting on my behalf or in support of me who violates this pledge.
1. I will always communicate in positive terms.
2. I will fully discuss the issues straightforwardly.
3. I will respect the opinions of others and will always address them in respectful terms even when we strongly disagree.
4. I will conduct my campaign and any term in public office in a manner stressing decorum, civility, and dignity of all.
5. I will not take out of context any statement or action of another person in order to misrepresent a position or activity.
6. I will not engage in personal attacks including, but not limited to, the spreading of malicious rumors, innuendo, false statements, misinformation, or incomplete or misleading facts.
Above all, I will be guided by the Golden Rule in all I say and do.
Maybe this would also be a good time to resurrect something like the Citizens’ Clean Campaign Coalition of San Luis Obispo County from the mid-1990s to help hold candidates and officials accountable for their words and deeds.
Our home has long been a gathering place for people with broadly divergent political points of view, and we celebrate those differences and revel in the exchange of ideas. These conversations can be passionate but are always respectful because we respect the individuals and the beliefs they hold. Public discourse should be no different than these conversations held around our dining room table.
People in public life need to value both the process and the result. Lack of respect for others demonstrates a lack of humility in oneself. We’ve reached a sad state when “unassuming politician” is considered an oxymoron.
By the way, as a newly minted candidate for the office of 4th District supervisor, I have decided unilaterally to accept the terms of this pledge and will conduct myself accordingly irrespective of the decisions of others.
Michael Byrd lives in Arroyo Grande and is broker/owner of SLOHomeStore.com. He’s also the 2013 president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyers Agents. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.