Let's watch our tone ... mmkay - Rob Felt

Civility has come to a screeching halt in America.

I want to smack everyone in the head with the biggest copy of Emily Post's Etiquette I can find. Smack them until the little stars that twinkle around your rude rattletrap are chanting "please" and "thank you very much." Smack them until pleasant banter with strangers and bitterly entrenched partisan bloodletting can both be conducted with a sense of prudence.

People approach each other like a set of rabid badgers on the roadways, at the grocery store and in the workplace. Anyone who isn't a mind reader or lock step in line with us needs to take a bath with their toaster. Disagree with me. Tell me why I'm wrong and what I need to change. I only ask for a slice of affability but if I don't get it – well, that sound is the water running and I'll pass you the soap and the butter.

Treat me with respect and talk to me like a grown-up! Are you capable of that? I mean – that would facilitate our interpersonal exchanges. I called directory information a few days ago and they were "unable to locate my listing" so I waited until I had rested the phone on its cradle before I let the expletives slide out. What good would it have done? If my flight is overbooked and I imply that the ticket agent's father was his mother's brother will that expedite my rear into a seat?

Take the following two paragraphs as a study of political and journalistic civility. They are both about the same story but in the second version I'll let it rip and drop whatever integrity and pleasantness this culture has allowed me to keep. True story, by the way.

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark touched on technology during his speech last Saturday in New Castle, N.H. Speaking hopefully and with bold expectations for modern science, the retired four-star general speculated that time travel may be possible in the future, concluding, "I can't believe that in all of human history, we'll never ever be able to go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go?"

Wesley Clark wrote a new punchline for the Democratic Party last week when he told a New Hampshire crowd he thought time travel was possible. Clark failed to consult a field of study that some scientists refer to as "physics," but this comes as no surprise from the party that thinks government can manage every aspect of life from education and retirement finances to health care. Maybe he thinks Democrats should manage time and matter for God because they know what's best for everyone and they don't believe in God anyway.

Now see – what that really necessary? Depending on your politics you're either mad at me or laughing, but that's not the point. My attack (and distortion) on democratic views through a harmless comment about the future of science was inappropriate. We all know this and yet we subscribe to it everyday. CNN attacks FOX. Rush Limbaugh attacks NPR. Is there an escape? Can't we all just get along and hear the news at the same time?

Take a moment the next time you see an opportunity to interject some decorum. Step back and ask yourself if it's better to be right or get along. People respect those they admire and agree with those they respect. In a survey conducted on Emily Post's Web site, 81 percent of respondents thought that we are "less civil" than we were 20 years ago. Take the old advice of practicing what you preach and stop complaining about it.

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at rfelt@henryherald.com.