"Character counts" was a favorite phrase for adults to use when I was growing up. I didn't understand for a long time what "character" really meant. I think of it now as being honorable, having integrity, and thinking of others when we make decisions about how to behave in life.
This morning, one of my Facebook friends, a friend from high school, posted this photo:
I don't normally engage in political discussions on the Faceplace, because it's just not productive, for reasons I'll describe below. This photo, though, really got me agitated. As much as I haven't liked certain Presidents, I wouldn't call them the "s" word, as my kids refer to it. I said as much on my friend's FB page. She replied, "Freedom of speech is very powerful!!" Yes, yes it is. When freedom of speech involves character assassination of our nation's leader, it's very powerful and very damaging to the strength of that nation. Lincoln himself said, "A nation divided against itself cannot stand." The problems that we face as a country--education, health care, unemployment, just to name a few--cannot possibly be solved by one political party or another. Creative and innovative solutions, which are clearly required, can only come from thoughtful discussion of these issues that involves people with different points of view.
Thomas Jefferson said,"Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant, education and free discussion are the antidotes of both." I include the word "bigotry" purposefully here. Attacks that are based on assigning a label such as "stupid" are inherently bigoted. They are based on intolerance and prejudice of one kind or another. I tried to engage my friend in the kind of discussion that Jefferson refers to as an antidote by stating that smart people can have very different points of view. She responded with her statement above regarding free speech. Clearly she didn't want to engage--she wanted to use her "right" to free speech to call the President names. This might not bother me so much, but this person was the valedictorian of my high school class, supposedly the smartest person in our school. It makes me wonder how many other people out there have become so entrenched in their particular world view that they can't see the forest for the trees. They would rather spend their energy on assassinating someone's character rather than generating intelligent, constructive criticisms of that person's policies or political decisions.
I believe this tendency is symptomatic of the anti-intellectualism we saw in the previous Presidential election. As Susan Jacoby writes in her article, "The Dumbing Down of America" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021502901.html?sid=ST2008021801642), Americans have not only been encouraged to become superficial consumers of political theory and process, we have also become arrogant in that superficiality. It is a terrifying prospect. As other countries outpace us in terms of manufacturing, children's school performance, and the value of their currency, we become a weaker and weaker nation. However, our arrogant inability to look closely at our own problems and work together to solve them means that we can only continue to become a more fragmented, angry, and ultimately despairing society. I tried with this friend, but ultimately felt despair at her lack of willingness to even consider the question I posed. What I learned from our exchange is that I can't talk politics with her on the Faceplace. And isn't that really the problem?