My grandmother Memory Lee Aldridge Lester, whom I often quote here, left me with many lessons, not the least of which is how to fix a proper gin and bitter lemon. Like any Southern Belle, most of my tutelage at her knee was about manners, comportment and "home training". I think of her daily, but one lesson in particular comes to mind this time of year when the political vitriol is running high and etiquette is running on empty: "Don't be ugly."
Yesterday on my Facebook page, fisticuffs broke out between folks on different sides of an issue. The inital post was civil, but it quickly turned ugly when folks began name-calling and finger-pointing. It got so bad, I ended up deleting the entire discussion after gently reminding people that the "civil" in "civil discourse" does not pertain to a civil war. (BTW, Bill Moyers devoted an entire show to civil discourse.)
Granny always reminded us, particularly in matters of politics or religion, to not be ugly. No matter what was going down, she expected that we would always remain composed and rational. When I was little, I tried to blindly follow this rule. But as I got older and began questioning everything, I asked my Dad (her son) why Granny was so stuck on this "be nice" thing. As he explained it, there was more to it than being nice. "The best way to show how crazy someone is, how wrong they are, is to appear [possibly the optimal word] sane and right," he told me. "Plus, if you stoop to their level, you're no better than they are."
There's an old adage here that you get more flies with honey than vinegar (it's variously attributed to Ben Franklin or the French). That's a cute way of saying that being angry, hysterical and rude isn't going to get anybody to suddenly decide you might have a decent point to make. Now, I'm not saying someone who's out of control about an issue is going to listen to your point of view if you act this way. But it's likely other folks will respond by giving you and your concepts a chance if you're personable about sharing them. So you still win. Be nice, even when the other person is being an idiot.
This is particularly important in public forums like Facebook. I did those posters a favor by taking the discussion down because any prospective business partner or employer who stumbled on these comments would have gotten a pretty unflattering view of the writers. Even the people I agreed with were so out of bounds with their pot-shots that I wanted to distance myself from them, too.
So here's your lesson for the day: Play nice. Be smart. Get the win.