Acrimony and outlandish behavior the new norm?
by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist
Adults are not always on their best behavior. One need only drive on the Expressway during rush hour to confirm this truth. We do the best we can, especially around children, but sometimes we’re forced to explain the behavior of other adults who should absolutely know better.
How does one explain to a child that Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns acted “in the heat of the moment” when he ripped the helmet off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and brutally smashed his head with it? How does one explain that the World Series Champion Houston Astros may have cheated their way to victory? How does one explain why the President of the United States is being tried for high crimes and misdemeanors on live television?
What is most troubling is how normal all this feels. Not only do people choose what opinions and interpretations to believe; legions are now choosing what facts to believe. While the NFL has suspended Garrett, the incident was peppered with questions about who started the brawl and defenses of teammates who defended Rudolph after the attack, which were in turn defended by nearly every player and former player who could find a platform on which to mount a defense.
There was a time when a child could aspire to become president and be proud of the office and the integrity of the office holder. The past 40 years have seen impeachment trials for two presidents and the forced resignation of a third. Football players, and athletes in general, used to be pillars of dignity toward whom adulation from society was appropriate.
With each passing day, what was once considered outrageous behavior continues to be normalized. We read radical messages on Twitter, and the more it happens the more immune we become. If adults are becoming immune, imagine what is happening to children.
There was a sense of irony when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked recently that the lack of civility in society was the biggest problem facing the US today. “Americans,” he said, “need to get back to debating issues without getting angry and acting out.” Elections were always “hot salsa,” he added, but governing did not need to be the same. This was the same politician who stated, “The single most important thing [Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” That didn’t sound much like debating or governing. Or civility.
I wish I knew how to stop the acrimony and the outlandish behavior that appears on professional playing fields, in the halls of our nation’s capital, and flagrantly online. This type of behavior is not sustainable in a civilized society. At some point, something has to give and we either accept the outrageous behavior as the new normal or something drastic happens to change it.
As I blast my horn and scream choice words at the driver who just cut me off on the Expressway, I realize, maybe only in a small way, that I am part of the problem. When one driver hears a horn blare he feels invited, if not compelled, to respond in kind. In a New York minute a dozen cars are blasting their honks like a flock of angry insane geese.
Society works much like a traffic jam. One incendiary tweet or disgraceful action on the playing field instigates another, and another, and the vicious circle never ends. For the broader society to adopt a more civil manner, small acts are the only way to begin. If even a few people choose to act in a more conciliatory manner, then a few others may imitate them, and our children will notice. Soon, a few becomes a movement, a movement gets trending on Twitter, and instead of teaching our students the vicious cycle of attack and counter-attack we instill common courtesy and call out indecent behavior for what it is: the destructive conduct of bullies and cowards.
It begins with one act, one gesture, one moment. For myself, I’ll try to keep my rage and my horn under control. Maybe the drivers around me will be inspired to do the same. Now that they can’t crush their phones to their ears anymore they might notice what’s going on around them.
Related ‘subject matter’ posts found here.
Other posts authored by Greg Cunningham can be found here.