How long does it take for a writer to give birth to a weekly column? It can be a few hours or a day or a week or even months. There is no prescribed gestation period. I have been carrying this one for a long time but I think the contractions have finally begun.
What in the world has happened to the civility of our public discourse? Have we lost our capacity to disagree with one another in a courteous and polite manner? Is it really necessary for me to shout at you to get my point across? Do I have to insult you and exaggerate our differences to impress everyone with what I am trying to say?
You can choose almost any topic. From the words "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance to the war in Iraq and from the Ten Commandments at the Chester County Court House to health care, people are yelling at each other and it is hurting my heart as well as my ears.
Stop shouting at me. The closer we get to the November elections the louder the racket becomes. Unfortunately, this is not only about politics, though politics is included. How sad that our political process has deteriorated into such vitriolic blasts. Do we really need to talk and act like this to get votes?
During his recent commencement address at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Senator Rick Santorum said these words, "Great universities don't hide from controversy. They understand that they have an obligation to expose and challenge students with more than politically correct dogma and fashionable ideas."
As he spoke, half the graduates turned their backs on him while some students and guests booed and heckled him. A similar reaction took place at Hofstra University when writer E. L. Doctorow strongly criticized President Bush in his commencement address. The boos and jeering grew so loud President Stuart Rabinowitz had to interrupt the speaker to quiet the crowd.
We must debate the issues. What about the ethics of stem cell research? What about the morality of euthanasia? What about preparedness and response to 9/11? What about Social Security and education and gambling and jobs and abortion? What about character and competence? The list is endless.
But how can we debate these issues when we can hardly talk to each other. And this is not about a political position. Sure, I have my views on these subjects as I know you do also. I'm also sure that on some (maybe many) of them we disagree.
Do we not have an obligation to our children to model a style and tone which we would want them to emulate with their peers. If they used this methodology in a high school political race, our school boards, principals, teachers and we as parents would probably want to abolish student government.
I don't need to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" (and I won't) to know that it adds fuel to the fire. Yes, Michael Moore is free to make such a film but to use this methodology to express his dislike for President Bush is, as one national reporter said, "unconscionable."
This poisonous disease has infected the right as well as the left. Recently I listened to a "conservative" national call-in radio talk show and the spirit and vocabulary of the host was downright shameful. Whether you call them "liberal" or "conservative", however, I do know this - they do not represent me.
We guard our freedom of speech with extreme devotion, as we should. But this freedom goes both ways. Just as I am obligated not to be rude to you when you freely express yourself, please do not be rude to me when I freely express myself to you.
The 11-year-old daughter of my friend, Hal Donaldson, said to her Dad during a typical "shout fest" on a well-known television program, "Dad, why are you watching this stuff? These people aren't being very nice to each other."
Think about it.
Editor's note: Dr. Meyer is president of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville. Responses can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org