Let’s fight about civility

As I was shuffling past the Governor’s residence during the Madison Half Marathon, I couldn’t help but think how silent it was. Of course, when you’re at the back of the pack, the only people who listen to you are, well, you. The civility that is the Maple Bluff neighborhood might as well have been a country removed from the behavior of what’s been going down a mere 2.5 miles away.

Much has been written about the lack of collegiality and civility in our discourse in Madison. One prominent man’s blasphemous reference to a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is another person’s citation of the Governor as a feminine hygiene product, and that’s just a click away on Facebook. Not enough has been written about stopping it, or more precisely, how to stop it. That’s because the fight about civility isn’t even civil, or the discussion of the badness of bad has no room for good. Therefore, I’ll pile on.

Let’s start with the Governor. Any trained audiologist in town should be able to flush that wax build-up from his ears so he can listen a whole lot more, and talk a whole lot less. I’m an equal opportunity critic, so I can say the same about his rivals. Yelling doesn’t work, obviously. Talking over people isn’t any better than talking below them – both are disrespectful. Want to get noticed and be a little dramatic in the statehouse? Bring in the Vienna Boy’s Choir for a bluesy rendition of “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers – that should do it. After having to listen to all this crap, shouldn’t “Whipping Post” become our state song?

Several decades ago, my father pulled me aside and said, “Son, you can go anywhere in the world today, close your eyes, reach out your arms, and you’ll touch someone’s behind.” Could it have gotten worse? I’m afraid the rear ends have it. Most communications consultants will tell you – and by the way, these are the same people who ask you for your watch to tell you what time it is (sometimes they even return the watch) – that there is an art and science of communicating. That’s true, the art is the word SHUT and the science is its companion word UP.

I once presented a headline for a newspaper ad to a bank president; “Our Tellers Are Good Listeners,” the headline read. His response? “Well, they’re really not.” I listened intently as he explained why minimum wage employees weren’t going to be good listeners before I told him that they were only taking their cues from maximum wage employees.

The first steps to lowering the decibels of disparagement are to start listening and quit talking so much. I’d like to think that’s easier done than said because saying seems to be the root problem. The next step is to get rid of the perpetrator’s human mouthpiece whose sole purpose is to add noise first, confusion second, and discourtesy third. And just to set the record straight, of course, there isn’t a rear end everywhere in sight, but from the back of the pack, what else am I seeing?

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