A number of years ago, my husband and I visited Florence, Italy. Not far from the famous “David” statue, there is another well-known marble statue of two Greek wrestlers, nude, and magnificently muscular. The statues are, as we say, ‘anatomically correct,’ and one wrestler is holding the other by an organ that my male friends tell me is quite vulnerable.
I have long since forgotten the statue’s real name, but my husband always refers to it as the “fight fair, dammit” statue.
Too many Americans seem to have lost the ability to fight fair.
After one recent, unpleasant Congressional fight, a friend gloomily summed it up: “It used to be that conservatives and liberals would offer contending arguments and evidence for their perspectives; now, when someone offers a proposal, the opposition just screams something to the effect of ‘you’re a poopy head!'”
Insults aren’t arguments, and they’re anything but persuasive.
I thought about what constitutes a fair fight after reading some pretty nasty on-line criticisms of our local school board. Full disclosure: I have a stepdaughter, a former graduate student, and a good friend on that board. They are all passionate about what’s best for children and they are all committed to public education. The three of them don’t always agree about what needs to be done to improve performance in the district, but they tend to be able to negotiate their differences with each other, and with most of the other members of the board.
Negotiating differences requires “fighting fair.” When they aren’t getting everything they want, some folks can’t manage that. Rather than making their case, they resort to distortions, and (especially) to impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree.
That falls into the “poopy head” category.
It’s one thing to raise an issue, or disagree with a position being taken by someone. It’s another thing entirely to call the Superintendent “Clarence Thomas,” implying he’s a traitor to his race, to accuse Board members of being “like child molesters,” or to claim that they’ve been “bought” by campaign donors who want to “destroy public education.”
When opponents of a policy cannot explain why it is a poor choice, when they engage in name-calling rather than factual discourse, they aren’t entitled to be taken seriously.
Can’t we please acknowledge that reasonable, well-meaning people–nice people who are acting in good faith–might just have different ideas about how to do things? Does everyone with whom we disagree have to be a poopy-head?