If you are like me, you’re concerned about all the rawest of rhetoric emanating from Washington and our leaders there. It has infected everything.
It’s in the entertainment industry, the media, the late-night talk shows — I stopped watching them after Johnny Carson left the Tonight Show. Today’s comedians don’t know how to do comedy anymore other than offering a buffet of profanity. It’s so sad to hear about it. The rhetoric does nothing to address our problems and our nation comes off looking like the land of the Philistines.
Our capital’s present rhetoric has locked us in to a Sisyphus-like condition. Sisyphus, a figure in Greek mythology, was king of Corinth who was punished in Hades by having to roll a huge stone up a hill repeatedly only to see it roll back down after he had pushed it to the summit.
Our national problems and issues are like that large stone. Our rhetoric with each other keeps our country from pushing it over the summit and it rolls back down the hill time and time again.
How can we escape this awful condition that we find ourselves in present American society? A great way is to follow the lead of our first president, George Washington.
George Washington composed “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Get a copy and read it!!
Washington knew that solving issues among our founders who drew up America’s governing blueprint, the Constitution, would not be easy. Those deliberations needed to be done in the highest of atmospheres of civility.
His first rule was this: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”
We are to respect others no matter who they are or what views they represent. It’s common decency to others. American society works better that way. When we are respectful of others and their opinions, that’s half the battle of problem resolution. When there are disagreements, and we do have them, we are to “disagree agreeably with each other.”
His 22nd rule was this: “Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.”
Above many other things we are to show compassion to others. Washington as a leader knew not everyone would agree with him and that he would have some who disagreed with him so strongly that they might become his enemy. He knew that taking delight the misfortunes of others would be a distraction to his leadership. Compassion is one of the main tenets of the Judeo-Christian ethic, which was exhibited by our Founders.
His 23rd rule: “When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but show pity to the suffering offender.” Here we have compassion again.
His rule 49: “Use no reproachful language against anyone; neither curse nor revile.”
Our public rhetoric with each other is tearing at the soul and fabric of America. We should use our speech to lift each other up and not tear each other down. Solve disputes in private and not in front of the TV cameras.
In the Book of James in the New Testament, almost a whole chapter (Chapter 3) is devoted to the evils of the untamable tongue. Hurtful and hateful speech spew poison in our society and when our national leadership engages in such speech with and among each other it turns our discourse into a swamp and any hope in arriving at any consensus on issues sinks deep into that bog.
At the heart of our hateful speech is a national political selfishness, not seen until this time in our history. Everyone thinks they are owed something from our national government and that our national government should address and solve every grievance in American society. That’s an impossible task. It leads to further division.
President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, given on January 20,1961; “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” We shouldn’t be so selfish in standing around waiting for Washington to help us. We should be selfless in meeting the local needs of our neighbors. We know their needs better than Washington does and we are not constrained in delivering help by thousands of pages of federal regulations.
In a Nov. 6,1982 radio address to the nation, President Reagan said; “I know our people will not fail America. They never have. Our task is to be sure our leaders do not fail the American people.”
Yet the leaders’ speech to one another has exposed their political selfishness and not the selflessness of the American spirit that is needed for a functioning federal government. You always put country ahead of party.
Is there any hope of getting that rock over the summit? Is there any hope of escaping our national rhetorical quagmire? I say yes and yes. Let’s follow George.