Respect and Civility

I know it will come as a real shock to those who read this blog, but I have opinions. A point of view. And admittedly, a regrettable tendency toward snark. (A Republican colleague at the University regularly greets me with “Hi, Snarky!)

I know those things about myself. At my age, I should.

Nevertheless, I was taken aback by a recent email from a reader agreeing with a column I’d written for the Indianapolis Business Journal. He informed me that such agreement with me was rare, and chided me for what he perceived to be a lack of respect for those holding contrary positions.

I thought about that accusation, and I decided that he is half right. Although I hope that I “walk the talk” with respect to my frequent calls for greater civility, civility is not respect. It is possible to be perfectly polite–perfectly civil– to someone for whom you have no regard.

So, what about the “respect” allegation?

I do have respect–great respect–for people who clearly share a commitment to important social goals (equal treatment under law, amelioration of injustice, official accountability and the like) but who disagree, sometimes strongly, about way we define those goals, or the policies most likely to achieve them. They are well-intentioned people with a perspective that is contrary to mine–a perspective I try  (not always successfully) to understand.

But it is true that I do not have respect for people who are self-serving and intellectually dishonest, the self-aggrandizing and/or antagonistic types we all come across–the “look at me!” know-it-alls who clearly aren’t interested in leaving the world a bit better than they found it, or making things any easier for those having a hard time. They are the trolls, the race-baiters, the angry name-callers, the people who don’t engage with the specifics of any discussion but seem only to be looking for a fight. My lack of respect for them undoubtedly comes through, because I tend to simply ignore such people. There is no point in feeding animus.

In my own defense, I think respect has to be earned.

Everyone is entitled to be treated civilly. Not everyone is entitled to be respected.


  1. I agree completely with what you have said, as I am sure many others do. Your ability to put ideas/thoughts/feelings into sentences that are moving is simply amazing. Thank you!

  2. Your last sentence nails it; and I will accept that as an answer to my recent request:)

  3. I totally agree with you as well and sometimes struggle with the same issues that you do. Fortunately for me I have had a tremendous outlet for having substantive policy discussions where everyone is on the same side with the same goal, just variations on it. I have been working for and with Riley Hospital for Children at I.U. Health for the better part of two decades as a member of various family support problem solving teams within the hospital. I work where we all have the same goal – providing the best health care experience possible for our patients and families every day. While they are obviously differences of opinions on all sorts of things all the time everyone involved shares that same mission and commitment and we sort out our policy differences without rancor in a constructive way. When you put your mission, or your policy objectives, before yourself there are no limits to what you can accomplish. Perhaps I should pinch myself for having had this great opportunity and experience that’s shared with all the very dedicated people that I rub elbows with all the time but for that pinch to really be effective it would have to be a welt.

  4. Sheila: This blog encourages that civility and respect. Our government would be more effective if the elected representatives could be more civil to each other and their differing ideas and opinions. there are damn few that operate that way. The campaigns are more about demonizing the opponent rather than explaining and defending (hopefully with facts) a position on an issue.

  5. I have been watching the Republican and Democratic people who are going to be running for president in 2016. I think civility and respect are already gone and there is over a year to go, so I must say, “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

  6. I think it’s also important to distinguish between people and ideas. Despite the fact that many people (myself included!) sometimes identify themselves with their ideas and beliefs, they do exist separately. And while people always deserve to be treated with respect, that’s not true of ideas.

  7. As an Englishman said, “A gentleman (lady) is someone who is never unintentionally rude.”

  8. I have to say I 100% agree with the person who sent the email. Not sure if I’d call it a lack of respect or civility, but your first instinct seems to always be to ridicule and be dismissive of people and views you don’t agree with. You assume that if a person holds a view contrary to yours, it has to be the result of the worst sort of motives.

    For example if someone is against abortion, then it can’t be a legitimate belief that the fetus is innocent human life deserving of legal protection, at least at some point, according to you it has to be because of a desire to “control women’s bodies.” The fact that there are plenty of women, even feminists, who oppose abortion is simply overlooked by you in placing a derogatory label on people who disagree with you on abortion.

    We live in a pluralistic society. Sometimes when we disagree on political issues, it’s just because of different values we have. It isn’t because there is something sinister or evil motivating the people on the other side.

  9. PKO. The underlying issue with abortion is whether government/elected officials should/should not be allowed to give themselves control over certain personal matters. There has been plenty of demonizing from both sides, even murder.

  10. Sheila, this is a terrifying, chilling post.

    This is the attitude of Eastern Europe, of Bolshevism, of the Cheka.

    This is the attitude that causes people to be loaded onto boxcars for “reeducation.” This is the attitude that causes people to become political prisoners merely for holding certain beliefs. This is not the attitude of England, Ireland, Scandinavia.

    To see justification for pogroms expressed so brazenly almost 100 years after Lenin is literally chilling.

  11. We all run up and down during our lives the spectrum between me and us, between self-centered and social in the sense of inclusive of others. One has to. Some spend more time at one end or the other but productive life requires both ends.

    One of the things about this end of life though is less running back and forth. Not only is “me’s” needs quite satisfied but as I move nearer the exit the importance of leaving behind a mark on and for others is more compelling.

    My great aunt used to say that folks don’t change but get more so. Maybe that too.

    I will say that I’m also more liberated towards intolerance of those who seem stuck in “me”. I want to wake them up and liberate their lives.

    So have I become a grumpy old man? Maybe, but it feels good to occasionally blast someone out of their egg into the whole world.

    We are no more self sufficient individuals than my individual cells can claim to be the real me. We are connected from them to humanity in fact to all life now and not yet. We are one. There is no me except in that context.

    Commercialism has brainwashed many into becoming their stuff. That perspective is no longer affordable or even desirable. The next step in evolution is to leave that behind, let it die out, and adapt to forever from temporary, sustainable from unaffordable.

    Those who reject that are in fact not sustainable. Taking a passing shot at them may save a few from extinction. Seems a worthy goal though a long shot to me.

  12. “but your first instinct seems to always be to ridicule and be dismissive of people and views you don’t agree with.”

    Paul, I couldn’t agree less.

    It’s one thing to redicule people, something that I observe Sheila as scrupulously avoiding. It’s completely another to redicule ideas some of which are just plain unsupportable morally and rationally.

    The fundamental benefit we’ve all been handed by ancestors who paid any price to bestow on us is freedom. The absence of power by other to dictate our lives.

    Threats to that gift need to be religiously repelled.

  13. Gopper, do I understand you correctly? Do you claim that by giving you and yours power over our lives we will be spared from a worse fate, someone else having power over our lives?

    What’s the difference?

  14. Let’s keep in mind the difference between a private person and our government. Government is required to not stifle the means to express your opinion. Sheila is a private person who is not required to respect uninformed or antiscience opinions just because you think them

  15. Pete, nice video. “The person with the power must be the person with the grace” is a great thought.

  16. If we all just make a commitment not to engage Gopper’s trolling, he and his straw army will hopefully move along and go antagonize people in some other forum.

  17. Well said, Sheila.

    I do agree with BrianK’s distinction. I get along very well with many co-workers whose opinions I don’t respect. They think I am a crazy Commie or something, but an otherwise nice fellow. 8)>

    Having followed your blog, and having met you very briefly, Sheila, I do not believe that distinction is lost nor lacking on your part. Civility and respect for the person as a fellow human go hand in hand.

    I suspect that your last line expressed that sentiment when you wrote it.

  18. Now here is a case where I would struggle and might lose my civility and would certainly not have any respect for the person of George W. Bush. I thought at first blush this news report was a troll. From the Guardian – George W Bush charged a military veterans’ charity $100,000 to speak at a fundraiser in 2012.

    “It was great because he reduced his normal fee of $250,000 down to $100,000,” Meredith Iler, the former chair of Helping a Hero, told ABC News. Laura Bush, the former first lady, was reportedly paid $50,000 to speak at the previous year’s fundraiser.

    I was going to say can anyone believe this!! However now a days anything can be sacrificed to make a buck or in this case $100K. Here GWB who unleashed a War on the Middle East which has led to thousands of American Deaths, tens of thousands wounded Americans, millions of casualties among the Arabs counting dead, wounded and refugees and GWB cashes a check to speak for charity -Helping a Hero. If GWB and his NEO-CONs who started the Gulf War 2 had any decency he would go before Congress and ask for more for V.A. so our wounded would not have to depend on a damn Charity!!!

    I am a Vietnam War Combat Veteran (Draftee Type) and find GWB beneath Contempt.

  19. I agree with “Seriously, Y’all.” He continually highjacks the conversation with outrageous statements that I doubt even he believes. (Like the one today.) If he doesn’t get a reaction, he’ll move on.

  20. I personally think that everyone contributes to Sheila’s blog, sometimes in no other way than adding contrast. There is nothing more meaningful than the free exchange of ideas among equals. What others say in no way affects me than occasionally giving me something to consider.

    I do enjoy hearing contrary ideas because I accept that they are legitimately held. At times I wonder the genesis of some and that I find is revealing it terms of understanding the culture of here and now.

  21. With all due respect to Pete, diverse opinions add to a conversation; however, dishonest discourse subtracts from a conversation.

  22. Seriously Y’all; thank you, thank you, thank you. You were much kinder and certainly more civil than what I thought of replying knowing who he referred to. Pete is a knowledgeable person with much to add but sometimes I think he tries to please everyone with his responses. I try to be civilly insulting to Gopper’s lack of civility and disrespect, giving us no facts to agree with or a basis for rebutal.

  23. It would be dull here with nobody disagreeing and we wouldn’t have the good insight that we do now about today’s Conservative memes. Not to mention that words are pretty harmless as thoughts made tangible unless they’re compelling. I don’t see that in these particular choices.

  24. It won’t happen, Pete. I used to think that all the Southern “Uncle Toms’ would soon disappear. After the sixties, I believed they would die out. What happened?

    Now there is one sitting on the Supreme Court!

    Only evolution can bring about the change. Not education. Too much room for variation. When the fascist among us no longer are, we will have no arms and heads the size of VWs.

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