Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Utah Lt. Governor Greg Bell recently held a press conference at Memorial House to launch an initiative on civility (see related story on page 10). Days later, a troubled young man went on a shooting spree in Phoenix, killing many and ruining the lives of many others.
Leaders across the country began calling for a toning down of the political rhetoric that drives Grand Canyon-sized wedges between us, calling such a tragic event “inevitable” in the current political fire storm.
As the seconds tick by and memories begin to fade, however, the new majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives puffs its chest and is trying to beat down the health care bill as nothing more than a symbol of the “new sheriff in town.” The repeal has no chance of getting past the threshold of the Senate chambers, but that won’t stop them from slapping the left around a bit before moving on to what Rep. Jim Matheson calls the “real work of the Congress” perhaps next week.
If we think such tragic events are just “somewhere else” than Utah, we would be mistaken. Utah has its own Jared Lee Loughners with itchy trigger fingers. I’m sure all states have at least one.
But it’s more than just about tipping the mentally unstable over the edge. It’s also about the ability of our nation to rise about schoolyard rhetoric and have serious conversations about serious issues in a controlled, measured manner.
A few months ago, back when it was nice and warm, I used this space to call for our community to be better to one another.
Today, even as Fred Phelps and his ilk from Westboro Baptist Church are purchasing their bus tickets to our pretty, great state to spew their “God Hates Fags” venom, and Sen. Chris Buttars is using a recent Utah Eagle Forum conference to sharpen his tongue, I am calling for our community to be better to those with whom we disagree.
Yes, I know that those who disagree with us are like the schoolyard bullies we grew up with, using words like “evil” and “immoral” against us and belittling our innate nature by labeling us as having “same-gender attraction issues.” They use fraudulent science to show how “bad” we are. They falsify documents to hide their involvement in organizations that spread falsehoods and outright lies during political campaigns.
But if we rise to the bait and return the same fire they throw at us, are we any better than them? By calling them names, exaggerating their statements and labeling them as bigots or hate-mongers, are we not lowering ourselves to their level?
I would rather earn my rights honorably so that when they come, and they will, I can hold my head high and proudly say that we were on the right side of history and we conducted ourselves with dignity.
So, I will begin by reflecting on my tone that I have set and the tone I will set in the future. I hope my fellow leaders will do the same.
I will use this column, this newspaper and my other comments to share my belief that it is necessary to treat everyone with the respect I hope that they would treat me and my community.
I will engage in setting this tone in my workplace, in my house and with my friends.
I will take action when I see those around me treat others in negative ways.
I will also solicit contributions from our readers on other ideas to ensure that the debate we are having over our inalienable rights is respectful.
I also ask that if you see me or others who grace these pages who are not living up to this call, that you set us straight (gaily forward?).
I just ask that you do it respectfully.