Monday, September 21, 2009

The Ignominious Coach

Here in the States it has been a rather cringe-worthy couple of weeks. Stunning outbursts of petulance and ego have spewed from several different corners; vitriol hurled forth from individuals in the public eye who apparently possess neither the spirit nor the capacity for civility and respect. In one arena after the other, like a bumper crop of fruit from a poisonous plant, rudeness has abounded, and shockingly so. From the music awards stage to the tennis court, and sadly, even to the floor of the United States Senate, where a congressman had the unprecedented audacity to yell out a boorish rebuke to his own President during a joint session of congress. Yes, there were apologies, and I will not doubt the sincerity of those here. But I will say, although I do not hold with the spanking of children, tanning the backside of a few adults seems like an excellent notion to me.

When I was younger, it was a belief widely held that this type of conduct was contemptible. It certainly lent no weight to a person’s opinions, nor to his arguments, indeed it rendered them dubious at best. However, in our current talk radio era, it seems that some feel entitled to express themselves whenever, and in whatever form, they choose. Forget about dignity or consideration; those were jettisoned a while ago. We are now on to abuse and denigration as the favoured methods of debate.

Years ago, upon landing in London for the very first time, I was soon on an early morning train into the city from Gatwick airport. Wide-eyed, and clutching my train ticket tightly, I was astonished to witness an argument between a rather wildly bohemian young woman who happened to be sharing my compartment and the gentlemen who was taking tickets enroute. Seems the lady was, quite knowingly, in the wrong train car. What followed was the most delightful example of a witty debate that I had ever heard. Although the lady had no leg whatsoever on which to stand, both people made their points with respect, civility and a good bit of humour. After she trundled off to the appropriate seating and I was left alone gazing out the window at the unfamiliar countryside, I could not help but think that this was the best first impression of a new country I could possibly have had.
My heart goes out to the tourists who landed here in the States for the first time last week, and I am ashamed of the introduction they received.

It is well past time for us as Americans to grab the reins of the ignominious coach of rudeness in which some of us have been traveling - shaking our fists out the windows, heedless of those in our path. I fear it is dangerously close to a precipice of shuddering depth, from which our words, spoken with such graceless arrogance, shall not just go unheard, but shall become ridiculous.

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength"
Eric Hoffer