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Civility 101: A draft

We’ve been thinking for a while now about just how this civility thing might go, and all that thinking has produced some ideas. Just to confuse you, here’s our tickler:

Bring your human brain.
Hold opinion lightly at times.
Eat potato salad, make potato salad.
Recognize horse manure before tracking it.
Find the wedge. Lose the wedge.
Fight like Founding Fathers.
Get (un)personal.
Lose the evil “they.”
Build your vocabulary.
Remove punctuation
Meet your batty brain.
Hold discomfort.
Be a comparison shopper.
Elevate substance over symbolism.
Err on the side of laughter.

Next week we will jump right in to discussion about bringing your human brain and leaving your lizard brain at home (when you come to the Village Square AND – we might humbly suggest as long as we’re being bossy – when you drive and when you vote).

Our radio debut

If you missed The Village Square on the NPR program Perspectives it is now up online here. Click on the “listen now” link for the September 27th show.

9/11 and the tale of Kenyan cows

fdnyangemaxfilesize.jpgThere are always moments amid the wreckage of what is worst in the human race, when we see clearly what is best in it. Even on 9/11.

There were those who walked toward trouble to allow the rest of us to walk away from it – the fire fighters, police officers, and in the case of 9/11, EMTs and Port Authority Police. They, like us on that day, had other concerns. . . kids to raise, bills to pay, oil to change. They put it all down and walked toward the horror to help strangers.

But of all the stories of human kindness following the terror of 9/11, one story in particular stuck with me.

About cows.

The Masai tribe of Kenya had raised money to send their native son Kimeli Naiyomah to medical school in the United States. He happened to be in downtown Manhattan on 9/11. He later returned to tell his tribe of what he witnessed.

“What happened in New York City does not really make sense to people who live in traditional huts, and have never conceived of a building that touches the sky,” explained Ibrahim Obajo, a freelance reporter working in Nairobi. “You cannot easily describe to them buildings that are so high that people die when they jump off them.”

What then did the Masai do for the most powerful nation on earth? They gave us cows. “They gave what is truly sacred to them,” Obajo said.

Across oceans, across language, across culture, their gift could not have communicated more clearly to total strangers.

As we try again today to make sense of this senseless act, I can’t help but think that the task ahead of us, beginning at the moment the first plane impacted the first tower, has a lot to do with summoning in ourselves the generosity of spirit shown us by the Masai, as we walk away from the darkness of human nature exemplified by the terrorists of that day. Even as we are at war, even as we disagree vehemently with each other on how to proceed, we can call on the higher angels of our human nature to reach across miles and language and culture to strangers. It will require everything in us to not become the hatred and intolerance we’re fighting.

I think we’re up to the task.

And maybe while we’re at it, we can save a bit of that generosity of spirit for each other.

50 years.

wedding-small.jpgToday is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. A lot has changed since September 7, 1957, not the least of which is I wasn’t around at all back then and now I’m not so very far from hitting 50 years myself. Between then and now my parents have built a life around each other and their three children. There has never been a moment since when they were not there for us. (Wow, they must be tired.) They’ve got three happy productive adult children to show for it (who have three marriages that seem to have stuck) and four spectacular grandchildren. And, best yet, they’re in Paris at this moment celebrating. They done good.

1957 – a year when Dwight Eisenhower took his second term, Elvis Presley bought Graceland, American Bandstand premiered, Dr. Seuss published Cat in the Hat and (of great family significance) North Carolina beat Kansas in triple overtimes to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

For most of the years of their marriage, it was the family joke on election day when my parents dutifully went to the polls “I’m going to go cancel out your dad’s/mom’s vote”. But they stayed married, go figure. I doubt if political party was even discussed seriously between them before they married – rather common dreams & values, a focus on family and a dedication to community and country. Almost 50 years later, my daughter wanted to date a fine young man. They almost never even considered it because they were of different political persuasions.

A lot can change in 50 years.

I know my parents are concerned with some of those changes, particularly in our civic and political landscape. In honor of their 50 years of marriage and their lives of service to this country (and out of respect for not making this day’s post about much else other than them) I will be starting a blog feature: “50 years.” Every once in a while, it’s worth a constructive look back. (Think we should deep six the “walked 2 miles to school in the snow uphill both ways” posts?)

Stay tuned.

And Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad. We love you.

A Prayer for the Village Square

This weekend I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa repeat a prayer that seemed particularly appropriate to the work ahead of us at the Village Square.

Oh Lord, where I am wrong, make me willing to change, and where I am right, make me easier to live with.

Political Ads: Can’t We Just Grow Up?

NPR Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon:

Do you remember when candidates used to appear in their own commercials? Many of them seemed a little stiff wearing a sober suit and white shirt framed by an American flag, a bust of Lincoln and family pictures as they made obvious, irreconcilable and insupportable promises.

“I will improve schools, hire more police, teachers and trash workers and lower taxes, create jobs, and get snow, guns and homeless people off the street by being tough, fair, generous and stingy to all of our citizens , regardless of race, creed or hair color, the number of toes they have or whether they were ever stupid enough to vote for my opponent. I welcome your support.”

I miss those ads. At least they gave you a glimpse of the candidate talking about issues, even in hilarious non sequiturs. These days candidates hire consultants to publicize the names of their opponents just so they can splash mud and slime on them. It’s as if Coca Cola bought ads just to show people taking a swig of Pepsi Cola and spitting it into a gutter.

The candidate used to at least risk rejection by asking, sometimes pleading “vote for me” in his commercials. Now they hide behind hired voices who ask “you aren’t really going to vote for that guy, are you?” Then have the candidate mutter at the end like some nine-year-old being forced to admit that he hit the baseball through the window “I approved this message.”

There’s an old Madison Avenue adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Many current campaign commercials don’t even try to sell sizzle, they just hurl sleaze. People who create them are using the expensive power of articulation to produce messages that are just about as mature as kids razzing each other on the playground.

Look, I’m from Chicago, I love covering politics there and still follow it like a contact sport. I know, as the old Chicago columnist Findley Peter Dunn wrote in 1898, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It has always been rough because the stakes are high. I am not one of those people who says “I wish we had a high-minded political system like they have in Canada.”

The sad fact is that candidates and soft money groups run vicious ads because the evidence is, they work. We might be appalled but we often follow through.

When ads become so personal, intense and insulting it’s difficult for the candidate who survives, I won’t even say “wins,” to climb atop the ooze and act like a human being, much less a statesman. And difficult for voters to respect or trust who they’ve elected, in spite of what they’ve been told. These ads may help candidates win the game, but they also risk tearing up the field and burning down the stadium.

By the way, my name is Scott Simon and I approved this message.