My mother, a well-educated, proper, southern belle, graduated from college in the 1950s with a double Major in Business and Communication. She traveled the world with my father while he was in the military and knew many languages; she considered them an art form. However, she loved proper English the most; not the American version, which she considered lazy, but actual English. She was a staunch believer in its correct usage and she passed this sentiment to me. When I was young, she never spoke in “baby talk”, she taught me the importance of pronunciation and corrected my conversational skills on a constant basis. For her, the ability to communicate and communicate well was a priority in life. She saw healthy debate as the door to knowledge and that communication was the key that opened the door. Everyone should have the right to express their opinion, but in doing so certain graces should be applied. Therein she created a set of rules she called “The Four C’s,” they are her dos’ and don’ts of conversation and debate.
First, “Do Collect your thoughts.” Make sure your opinion is clear and well thought out. By drifting off topic or switching up your points of argument, you just seem scattered and ill-informed. Before expressing your opinion, educate yourself on the topic. Find out facts and firmly decide where you stand on a subject. If you only know a small amount about something how can you be appropriately, intellectually armed to defend your argument? This concept seems lost in an age of vitriolic preconceived notions and judgments, where facts and truth are continually ignored. Why should you take the time to research something, when you just know, in your gut, that you’re right? Right?
Second, “Do be Considerate of and open to the other person’s opinion.” You should always remain open-minded to an opposing opinion. A person has a reason for their beliefs regarding a topic and sometimes their life experiences make them uniquely qualified to speak about it. They may have facts you do not or, more importantly, they may have an emotional connection to the subject that could make it easy to offend them. I, for instance, have no firsthand knowledge of what life is like in ‘coal country’. I have educated myself on facts regarding coal’s effects on climate, the environment and the health of those that mine it, but I have not lived it. I have not faced having to work from dawn until dusk; in dark, oxygen starved caverns, to provide for my family, simply because there are no other options. Therefore, I would not assume to relate to a coal miner’s point of view, though I should at least attempt to understand it.
Third, “Don’t be Condescending with your delivery.” Harsh language, or talking down to someone, immediately puts them on the defensive and will cause them to stop listening to what you say. Believing you know all the problems and solutions speaks more to your ego than your intellect. There is never a time when approaching someone with an air of superiority serves you well. Most people want to speak with you, not be spoken at by you.
Fourth, “Don’t Curse.” My mother was emphatic regarding this. She considered cursing the last defense of a simple mind. When debating a topic that you are passionate about, cursing undermines the intelligence of your point of view and creates a hostile tone that will, again, make the other person defensive and closed off. And, of course, you run the risk of it turning into a shouting match. My mother also said: “Raising the octave of your voice over the other person doesn’t make you right. It just makes you look out of control and irrational.” Honestly, this last one is the hardest one for me to follow. I find it satisfying to use the ‘F word’; in all its variations, to give inflection to my side of a debate. Not as an insult to the other person, but as an exclamation at the end of my point. I’m sure my mother would be mortified by some of the words I have used when frustrated with, what I deem to be, an extreme display of ignorance. While I know it may weaken my argument, I can’t bring myself to stop. My one comfort is that I am not alone in my failing. While watching late night television talk shows, I hear an abundance of ‘bleeping out’ what may be considered offensive language. Apparently, society seems to still have quite a large amount of ‘F’s’ to give; despite protestations to the contrary.
Sadly, these rules do not currently seem to be prevalent in modern culture. I, myself, do attempt to keep The Four C’s in mind when expressing my opinion, though I own I am not always successful. Especially on the topics of politics, education, and religion. On these ‘hot button’ topics, I have been accused (especially by my children) of being opinionated to the point of obnoxiousness.
Politics; I confess, world political issues are heavy on my mind. As I become more concerned for the future of civil liberties and the spread of nationalism, I dread the constant rhetoric and daily ‘Breaking News’ alerts, along with all the commentary they inspire.
Education; especially regarding World History, puts me up on my ‘soap box’. A person’s lack of knowing it, learning from it or acknowledging that it tends to repeat itself, frustrates and confuses me. How can we know where we are going if we don’t know where we have been?
Religion; always a tricky subject. I am a firm believer in religious choice, we are each entitled to believe whatever path best serves us and our world view. My belief is the ‘One goal, many paths’ philosophy. I do not, however, appreciate when someone tries to force me onto their chosen path. If I am respecting your choice, then please respect mine.
When discussing these topics, I lose my ability to be tactful and pleasant. I am not proud of this and acknowledge there are times when I should just ‘walk away’. Afterward, when tempted to apologize for my behavior, I remember what they said (or typed) to set me off, and I just can’t. I cannot offer an apology to someone I know not only won’t appreciate it, but who will, almost certainly, take it as a concession to their point. I am just too stubborn.
In recent years, I have seen an excess of opinions shared that could be considered unproductive and destructive. Global communications have expanded and anyone with an internet connection can express their opinion, whether measured and educated or haphazard and ill-informed. As a result, decorum, tact, and simple human kindness have gone out the window. Everyone has a unique perspective on events based on their influences and individual experiences, yet there seems to be an excess of “I’m right and you’re wrong” back and forth without listening or attempting to understand each other. Rules of etiquette and politeness are being sacrificed. At a time when society is very divisive, the ways in which we express ourselves have become altered. Anonymity has created a sense of safety; we can sit behind our keyboards and rant, tweet and chat against perceived injustices of the world, spewing our opinions with no thought to the consequences or effects of what we are saying.
We are flooded with information on a constant basis; the internet, the news media, and social media all come at us with facts and ‘alternative facts’, leaving us to discern what is true and accurate for ourselves. Add to this the constant bombardment of commentary; either pushing a certain side of the argument or a separate agenda entirely, and it has led to an acceptance of dissolution of proper human interaction.
Technology provides us with the illusion of participating in world events, even as personal one-on-one interactions diminish. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, we now use apps, chat rooms, gaming and live streaming to convince ourselves that we are part of something while always keeping ourselves somewhat separate and safe; we can sine off, check out and disconnect whenever we wish. The result is a growing portion of society has become disinterested in actual, logical debate. They just want their opinion heard and don’t care about anyone else’s. I understand the attraction to that, trust me. There are times I just want to shout what I feel should be an obvious conclusion and have a ‘drop the mic’ moment but, the thought of my mother and her Four C’s always stops me in my tracks.
Thankfully, there are some, like myself, who still look forward to lively, respectful, debate, peppered with the occasional expletive. We may be diminishing in number, but we are not yet extinct. And though it may be comfortable to limit my interactions with those who believe and express themselves differently, I will continue to engage; as I’m a firm believer in challenging myself and my own preconceived notions and beliefs.
While I accept that it may difficult, I will always strive to implement the Four C’s into those engagements, to the best of my ability.