A scourge of incivility threatens our society
At the special meeting on August 13, Susan Pauling, a member of the school board (central district), expressed concerns about the behavior of the public four days earlier and the tone of the debate in general.
Less and less, it seems that we are talking to each other rather than shouting.
The emotionally charged Fauquier County School Board meeting on August 9 provided yet another example of the rudeness that increasingly pollutes what we called civic discourse.
During this two-hour reunion at Taylor Middle School in Warrenton, audience members repeatedly threw verbal grenades at “Citizens’ Time” speakers they disagreed with. The moms screamed. A man hissed loud enough to damage his eardrums.
Ironically, the majority of the board had already made it clear that it would not make face masks mandatory when 11,000 students and around 900 teachers returned to class in just two days. Still, dozens of people felt compelled to yell at those who expressed dissenting views.
One can only imagine what parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, Boy Scout leaders and Bigmouthed coaches would have thought of the behavior. Who taught that?
How did we get there ?
We call each other names.
We hurl insults on Facebook – and in person.
We feel great satisfaction when the other side “loses”.
Only the naive would think that we have not disagreed vehemently throughout the history of our young nation. Thousands of settlers opposed the American Revolution. The Civil War clearly demonstrated what HR guys these days call “fault lines”. Citizens of our nation have killed people because of the color of their skin.
But, after all these painful chapters in our quest for a more perfect union, why do we so badly demonize our fellow citizens whose opinions do not match our own?
Nearly two years ago, 2,000 people gathered in front of a supervisory board at the Warren Green Building to oppose any violation of their Second Amendment rights.
But, this crowd didn’t scream and scream. “Excuse me” and “Thank you” punctuated the conversations as people moved calmly through the crowded streets.
By comparison, some at the school board meeting looked like an unbalanced crowd.
Most of us have grown tired of the effects of the pandemic on our daily lives. For commuters and parents of schoolchildren, in particular, the stress has at times been overwhelming. The mental health effects will likely stay with us well beyond the end of the pandemic. No one doubts the pain.
But, that does not justify shouting at our fellow citizens during a school board meeting. It doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile either.
Three days after the August 9 meeting, the state health commissioner ordered masking at all public and private schools in Virginia as cases of COVID-19 climbed to levels the state had not not known since last winter and early spring.
The school board hastily called a special meeting on Friday, August 13 to discuss the new order. Most of the board members expressed outrage at the “Richmond mandates,” but agreed to abide by them.
During this special meeting, Susan Pauling (Center District) again addressed the audience behavior she had witnessed on Monday night.
Clearly supporting the parents’ choice, Ms Pauling acknowledged “two sides to this position of mask mandates” and thanked Duke Bland (Marshall) for expressing views contrary to his own.
“One thing I think we’ve lost in this dialogue is the ability to actually listen to people. . . and converse, ”she said, mentioning two students who got up on Monday evening to share their concerns about unmasked peers.
“When people in our community boo and tell them to sit down, it’s mortifying,” Ms. Pauling continued. “We have lost all decency as adults. . . . I think we fail as adults who lead by example.
She concluded, “I would just like to ask everyone; we need to change the way we communicate in our community. We must lead, because our children are watching us.
Even then, some outside the meeting ignored his plea.
A member of the health department, who attended the special school board meeting just to share information and not to set policy, needed the help of sheriff’s assistants to keep an angry parent at bay and for an escort to his car.
Emails about this threatening behavior and the content of those two meetings quickly circulated among county, school and state officials.
The scourge of incivility has spread from coast to coast. In just one example, the Spotsylvania County School Board ended its meeting after just 13 minutes on Monday due to unruly public behavior.
So here we are. Now what?
Leadership Fauquier, with help from the county’s Democratic and Republican party leaders, recently led a series of book-based Zoom conversations about loving enemies. A topical and topical subject, it unfortunately attracted relatively few participants in a county of over 72,000 souls.
Most of us fall back on our keyboards and have chosen echo chamber media to help us understand an increasingly complex world, as well as validate our views.
But, can anyone name a hero who achieved his goals with primitive screams? Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert E. Lee, Indira Gandhi?
As the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches, it is perhaps useful to remember how calm our leaders have reacted, at least publicly, despite the horrors the terrorists have inflicted on us. Remember President George W. Bush with that megaphone as he stood among the first responders in the rubble of the World Trade Center?
Somehow, if we are to survive, we have to treat each other as fellow citizens, as equals, and not as sub-humans.
You have to have humility and a little RESPECT.