This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

September 13, 2003 - manners

Some years ago now, there were two ministers living on my cul de sac. One minister worked for a fairly liberal Christian church. Another was the pastor of a more conservative, evangelical congregation. Each of them had a daughter about the same age as Maddy, who was then about 4 years old.

One day, while I was washing the dishes, I heard the three girls playing together. Then I heard the daughter of the conservative minister begin talking about Jesus. The daughter of the liberal minister chimed in. After they chatted for awhile, finally, one of them turned to my daughter, a little exasperated.

"What do YOUR parents believe?" she asked.

Maddy said, "My parents believe..." and I all but fell out the window trying to catch this, "in being polite."

I grinned for days.

I'm not one of those people who believe that everything is getting worse in America. I see many things to celebrate in our culture.

But that isn't to say that I see no problems at all. The one that bothers me most is what seems to me a growing tendency, especially in the political world, but elsewhere as well, to mistake rudeness for cleverness.

It's also true that I meet so many genuinely accomplished people who seem to me best characterized by a profound courtesy. They are slow to take offense, and slow to give it. They are inclined to give other people the benefit of the doubt.

They may disagree with someone else's opinion. But they have learned to be pleasant about it. They have learned to separate an opinion from the person expressing it.

I'm addicted to reading letters to the editor, and I'm alternately aghast or amused by the frequency with which people simply attack the motives or intelligence of someone, and believe they have somehow made a point.

This is the fallacy of "ad hominem" -- attacking the man, instead of attacking the argument. When people do that, they lose my respect twice: first, for being rude, and second, for dodging the real question or questions.

A 2002 study by the PEW Charitable Trusts called "Aggravating Circumstances," found that some 79% of the American public believes that lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem for our society and we should try to address it. While some feel that we've made progress with minorities and the disabled, many feel that in other areas, we’ve gotten significantly worse.

Here's a telling statistic: some 41% of the survey respondents said that they were themselves rude and disrespectful in public, and it bothered them a lot.

Recently, I re-read a book in my personal library: Robert Heinlein’s "Friday." In it, one Dr. Hartley M. Baldwin said something that I’ve been thinking about ever since.

"Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms .... but a DYING culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."

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