A Plea for Civility

Beth Bailey
Sep 7, 2018 · 5 min read

Last week, I followed my unsteady toddler on her giggling tour of destruction around the house while I called a friend to wish her a happy birthday. At the end of the call, my daughter looked up from the blocks she had been placing around the study and said, “haa-pee.”

“Did she just say that?” I asked my husband, who was sitting at his computer. He nodded.

I looked into our daughter’s deep blue eyes. “Can you say ‘happy?’” I asked.

“Haa-pee,” she repeated, a toothy grin on her cherubic face.

I was overcome with excitement. This was the first multisyllabic word our child had used, and the only word in her small vocabulary with absolutely no utility. For the next few days, I prompted my daughter to say, “happy,” just to hear her budding voice trill out the syllables.

I also spent the next days thinking — perhaps more than a normal person might — about how lovely it was that our sweet girl, who could have chosen any number of sounds to repeat, had picked “happy” as her first real word.

At first, I thought about how much I would want to throttle anyone who might try to diminish or eliminate that little girl’s joy. And then I realized something terrible: that I had posed a great threat to my daughter’s happiness.

For the last two years, my countrymen have been tearing one another to pieces under the guise of the politics that now pollute nearly every aspect of our lives. The hatred has disgusted me. And yet, instead of turning away from it, I’ve let myself become infected with the necrosis I despise.

For almost the entire time I’ve been battling my own all-encompassing rage, I’ve also been caring for another human being. For the first nine months of those two years, my daughter was camped out in my womb, where I thought I was keeping her safe from the nastiness that surrounded me. My husband, however, often joked that stewing in all my anger would be bad for our child. “She’s going to come out screaming,” he’d say. And I’d protest, and then tell him the latest saga of how someone I loved had been wronged by a lack of common decency in the world.

When she made her entrance, our daughter brought a new sense of hope. I showered her with endless kisses and spoke to her with sweet, calm words, but my anger was still there. Mostly, it simmered, but when it boiled over, doting mommy turned into raving lunatic. Over the phone, I would spew venom about my disgust with how my fellow Americans were treating one another while I pumped or folded loads of tiny lacy sleepers and dresses as my child cooed and smiled. When the hatred for people like me reached a fever pitch, I’m ashamed to say that my own words sometimes reinforced the precept of “otherness” that rankled me. In the background, my daughter crawled around the house in search of dogs, or unlatched cabinets.

I thought that I was being a good role model and decent person by remaining civil on social media, and staying upbeat and apolitical when talking with people on different ends of the spectrum than my own. I didn’t think about what my cheerful, adventurous daughter might soak in when I aired my grievances in private. Even while I had been working so hard to keep her healthy and safe, my anger and my actions had put that little girl’s joy at risk.

Now is the time for me to start being better. Not just for my daughter, but for the sake of the world around me. Carrying grudges against the people in my social media circles who can’t seem to embrace civility is both exhausting and hypocritical. And more importantly, I’m sick to death of being angry.

Here’s the sad news: I don’t see an end to the rancor in sight. There was a pause, perhaps, during Senator John McCain’s funeral, though even that was used to belittle President Trump and his supporters. Aretha Franklin’s funeral was used in a similar way. Now Nike has jumped aboard to exploit this country’s differences for its own ends. And that’s just a fraction of what’s been happening in the last two weeks.

There’s also the escalating problem of the excuses we’ve made for our collective bad behavior. You know them. They go something like this: “Well, that’s the way Trump/Hillary talks about people,” and “The other side does it,” or “Yeah, but they’re all just a bunch of stupid #$%@s, anyway!” These are all lazy arguments, and I have used some of them myself. They are a huge part of the reason we’ve been stuck, for two years, in a downward spiral of negativity. By now, most of us are too hurt to admit that our words are hurting anyone else.

Prior to 2016, I remember having the radical belief that every one of my friends and family members, regardless of political affiliation, was an outstanding human being.

Before 2016, no one I knew had ever questioned my character or intellect because I was a conservative Republican. That’s no longer the case.

These days, some of the most incredible, caring people I know have had harsh, unfounded things to say about people like me, especially on social media. It doesn’t matter that they are amazing individuals; their words hurt, and it will be hard to forget them.

I am certain that some of the things I’ve said, or “Liked,” have probably caused pain to others as well. For that, I’m sorry.

For those of us who have left behind scars, trying to change our ways will not be easy. But what’s our other choice? To keep belittling and degrading the same humans we should love, just because we check different voting boxes? How long will it be until using words to inflict pain on one another isn’t enough?

I think it’s past time for a return to civility. My daughter isn’t the only little one being brought up in this time of hate. And she’s too young, and too intrinsically happy, thank God, to be heavily affected by it. I shudder to think of what parents of school-age children are having to discuss around the dinner table. And it hurts me to keep hearing about the wounds being inflicted on people I love because of negative partisan politics.

Before being members of a political party, and before, even, being Americans, we are all human. There are powers at work that want to make us forget that; that are happy to camp us up and divide us for their benefit. We can’t change them, but it is our choice how we respond to their string-pulling. At the very least, I think we can all manage to engage politically while treating one another with a little kindness.

For the sake of the country’s future, and for my daughter, I’m laying down my axe. I encourage you to do the same. I want to save my battles for the world’s real monsters, because they ought to be a far greater threat to my family’s happiness than the outstanding Americans who are my family and friends.

Beth Bailey

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