The State of Civility

The primary problem with extreme political partisanship is not the yelling and fighting and general discourse it causes the country, although that is an issue. The primary problem is that the nature of political anger leaks into the rest of society in the same way divorcing parents impact their children. In short, subtly. Thus the vitriol with which we treat each other is a direct descendent of the vitriol with which our civic leaders treat each other.

In the second debate, this exchange took place between President Obama and Governor Romney:

ROMNEY: Production on private, on government, land…
OBAMA: Production is up.
ROMNEY: … is down.
OBAMA: No, it isn’t.
ROMNEY: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent.
OBAMA: It’s just not true.
ROMNEY: It’s absolutely true.

As Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out (which is where I got the exchange), “It was Abbot & Costello for angry people.”

We are permeated by anger and discontent. It’s customers for wasting our time and government for making life harder and old people for soaking up all the best benefits and young people for being young people. (Get off my damn yard!)

This isn’t a new phenomena, after all. Partisanship was so severe in this country that at one time we split in half. Anger was so severe in this country a few years back that we burned cities and bombed buildings. In fact this country was founded on discontent so the idea of it permeating every facet of our lives should probably be unsurprising.

Personally, though, I’m tired of it. I’m cynical by nature so staying positive is not always easy. (When I was a teenager I used to tease my cousin mercilessly. My aunt asked me why I have to pick on him so badly. I responded, “Because he’s such an easy target.” It started early.)

There is something about having kids that makes a person re-evaluate everything he does and how he does it. In an effort to raise my two daughters in a world less severe then the one I exist in, I have attempted to tone down my cynicism, to focus on positive aspects of this world, and support those who do, too.

That’s why I refer to them as President Obama and Governor Romney. Whether I like the men or not, whether I vote for either of them or not, they still deserve the respect their offices deserve.

It’s not just politics. When Infinity Softworks receives support emails from customers we try to respond quickly and succinctly. Our customers deserve empathy and respect. When I get a random phone call from someone in the community looking for advise on her start-up, I try to meet. When I need to move a meeting I try to do it early and almost always by phone so it is clear that I’m respecting the other person’s time.

I hope that these simple acts are cumulative, that the more I do them the more impact it has on my associates, family and friends. When I started Infinity Softworks, I went to share my business plan with one of my favorite college professors. He read it and asked if we needed some money to help get us started, at which point he handed me a check for $10,000. I offered to repay it or give him a stake in the company. He said no need. Instead, he offered, someday do the favor for someone else.

I will continue trying to hold up my end of that bargain.