The Decay in Civility, Part 1; John Sununu on Colin Powell

Here we are in the run-up to the single most important event Americans actually take part in (unlike Kardashian weddings), a presidential election, and while I have an opinion, which is not what this post is about, I have some examples of amazing acts of lack of civility that major public figures need to be reminded of. And since they don’t read this blog (alright, pretty close to no one reads this) but over 10,000 people will get a tweet about it, I’m hoping some of you will understand the bipartisan nature of my thoughts and share them with anyone and everyone you can.

Let’s start with former Governor John Sununu’s odious comments questioning the motives behind retired General Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. In a nutshell Gov. Sununu (a senior advisor to Gov.Romney’s campaign) suggested General Powell’s endorsement was racially motivated and the General should end his membership in the Republican Party. Not only does this mimic Rush Limbaugh’s heinous comments about Powell’s 2008 endorsement of then candidate Obama, but it touched off a firestorm of indignation in my head about how people deal with one another in public forums (and to a far greater extent, in everyday conversation between people who aren’t running for office, but just trying to maintain healthy and honest relationships with friends).

For the record I am happy to blast any Democrat who would make an equally offensive comment about Governor Romney’s religion – comments I would find equally heinous – or anything else that crosses the line.

And it’s that line that just keeps getting murkier and murkier in this digital age. How often have you written an email to a friend, a colleague or co-worker only to find out later that your words were misunderstood or read in a way that you had no intention of. Civility, maintaining friendships, doing things for friends that put you in positions of risking that friendship and the greater notion of treating people with respect, trusting them, and giving them the benefit of the doubt takes guts.

John F. Kennedy, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, spent hours with his most trusted advisors trying and trying to figure out a way to avoid a World War (see Robert A.Caro‘s fourth volume on Lyndon JohnsonThe Passage of Power) and talked specifically “about the miscalculations” that had led to the first World War. According to Robert F. Kennedy’s recollection in the Caro book, these miscalculations “they somehow seemed to tumble into war, he said, through stupidity, individual idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings and personal complexes of inferiority and grandeur.”

War was avoided and though historians have spent much of the last fifty years questioning every decision that was made before, during and after that crisis. JFK took the time to give his “enemy”, Khrushchev, more time than those around him wanted to have to help avoid a crisis becoming a war. And though hardly ancient history – a tough argument to make given the state of education in America today – it serves me as an excellent example of treating someone with civility despite what is going on in the world around you.

It takes work to remain civil. It takes more work to keep friends.

Both are worth it in the long run.