We’ve lost our lubricant

Last night I watched S.E. Cupp declare that Americans have a sickness and that sickness is hate. She lamented that the Pandemic is the first time, Americans have not come together to help each other. Instead they seem filled with hate. Don Lemon blamed former President Trump for fomenting anger.

It didn’t start with the pandemic and it’s been bubbling up for quite some time.

Tonya was like the crab in the bucket. That’s the first time I noticed a shift. “She’s trailer trash.” Harmless water cooler talk? Not to me. I spoke up. Why is it okay to disparage someone just because she grew up less fortunate, with fewer resources? Colleagues dismissed me as naive. Maybe I was. Everyone seemed to jump on the bandwagon in a concerted effort to keep the crab from crawling out of the bucket.

The next time hit closer to home. A former friend and classmate of CeCe’s appeared on one of those talk shows. You know, the ones where audiences scream insults at the guests? And sometimes the guests get into what looked like staged physical confrontations? Jan’s upbringing was abusive; she had cognitive struggles; she was a teen mother; more than once. Jan was a willing victim of the host and audience. I cried for her. I cried again when I saw her and she seemed to revel in her fleeting fame, not understanding that she’d been objectified for network ratings.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped rooting for the underdog. We started delighting in others’ misfortune. Reality TV, anonymous comments, snarky putdowns.

We forgot that “manners grease the wheels of society.”

It only got worse. Those hyperbolic displays of bad manners in the television studios migrated to real life where people tweeted threats at celebrities, trolled scientists online, and mocked anyone with a different opinion. It became easy to say about someone what we’d never be impolite (or brave) enough to say to them.

Did Mr. Trump foment anger? Yes. Did he make people angry. Yes. Does he lack manners? Absolutely. He cultivated and encouraged a world where virtue and politeness are a thing of the past. He made it okay to come out of the audience, to come from behind the cloak of anonymity, and spit in the face of anyone who didn’t think like he did. Now, anyone: an athlete, a store clerk, an elderly man walking home from the grocery store can come under physical or verbal attack for a different opinion, a perceived slight, a sideways look, or something yet undefined.

I know that good manners are not the solution to everything. But, surely we can voice our opinion, air our grievances and make ourselves heard without denigrating each other. I think I’ll hold on to my naivety and continue to believe that we can celebrate differences; we can learn from each other by listening; and we can disagree without hate. We can be polite. And maybe, just maybe, if we practice good manners enough we can begin to look at each other again as real, feeling, thinking people rather than obstacles in our way.

Manners are like the shadows of virtues, they are the momentary display of those qualities which our fellow creatures love and respect. Sydney Smith

Were you looking for my Wednesday’s “50 word?” I’ll be back with my succinct stories next week. Sometimes 50 just isn’t enough. This week was one of those times the words just kept percolating until they had to come out.