Screaming into the Void: What’s Lacking in our Civil Discourse

How I Remember It

Growing up, I didn’t know if my folks were Democrat or Republican, until I asked one day, probably when I was in high school. My mom told me that we were Democrats; no reason was given as to why except that the Republicans “just had so much money”. They never, ever discussed politics—even when Watergate was happening—at least not in front of us kids. It wasn’t until I married an AP Government teacher that I even began to understand the differences between conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat. 

Fast forward to 2020:

Nowadays, I have a very good understanding of the two parties and both what they traditionally stand for and what they have come to stand for according to mainstream media, specialized media, social media, and average Joe media. In my opinion, they have both moved as far from center as they can and have been hijacked by the furthest wings of their supporters. 

I long for a moderate party that supports my views which are a mix of (the best ideas, of course) of each party. That’s all a pipe dream, naturally, as the battle for America in this election commences. 

What modern-day politics has become is nothing but sound bites, video clips, and seeing who can shout the loudest. The articles, op-ed pieces, and books about this topic are legion. There is a complete and utter lack of civil discourse on ANY topic. Our “leaders” model this behavior for us as there is little-to-no bipartisan support for anything in Congress. Media outlets willfully present “facts” in ways which use all the fallacies of reasoning I used to teach about in my Theory of Knowledge class.

Read more about logical fallacies here:

Via my social media outlets, I have become hyper-aware that I have friends who are ultra-liberal and ultra-conservative. There are still a majority, thank goodness, of whose politics I am completely unaware. Still, in this vitriolic environment, politics is what loads of people are talking about—much more than they did 30 years ago. My own sweet parents, who never were political in the home in which I grew up, are consumed with this election. People everywhere have shifted from having an interest in politics to being upset daily by what is happening in our country. Please do not misunderstand—I am not advocating hiding one’s head in the sand. I am not advocating for you to not stand by your convictions. I’m not even saying that it’s bad to share your political views. I AM saying that we ALL need to rethink our interactions on the internet–especially those that are political in nature. The behavior of the average American toward politics has shifted dramatically since the advent of social media–and not in a good way.

Unfortunately, the form that “an interest in politics” takes on social media is simply SCREAMING INTO THE VOID. It seems that EVERYONE is angry. EVERYONE  is pointing a finger at someone else. EVERYONE is trying to make a point in the hopes of swaying others—sometimes shaming them—over to their point of view. THIS NEVER WORKS. When one is so convicted that their way is the only way and everything else is hooey, how can there be common ground?

Rather than having a logical debate or thoughtful conversation, people seem to want their voice heard BUT NO ONE IS LISTENING. No one is interested in hearing a different viewpoint (despite pleas to the contrary)—least of all to someone who disagrees with them. Trollers who just want to get into arguments for arguments’ sake are lurking in every comment section. Newsflash: No one is going to actually change their mind. All the screaming and stamping of feet just adds more chaos both to the ether and to our dinner tables.  No one likes to be preached at, yelled at, or to be treated with derision. If you are serious about changing someone’s mind, teach them by example. Do more practicing what you preach rather than preaching.

We recently watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix; what a sorry state of affairs. I highly recommend that you check it out and then take a good, long look in the mirror at what you are feeding your mind and how you are framing your thinking. The confirmation bias that most of us are guilty of engaging in when we choose a news source, the existence of malicious bots and other fake accounts, and the fact that we literally cannot believe what we SEE anymore, is sickening.

Click here for an article about how faked videos are so good that you think they’re real:

I try to keep my glass half-full

It doesn’t HAVE to be this way. Recently, my husband and I had a very thoughtful, considered conversation with another couple with whom we are friends. The discussion centered around mail-in voting. Between the 4 of us, at least 3 different opinions were shared on the topic. We offered up questions, possible scenarios, evidence for why we thought what we were thinking, analogies, and the like. NO ONE BECAME ANGRY. We didn’t come to a complete consensus, but did agree that the issue was perhaps more complicated than we had each considered on our own. We respect one another. We heard one another. There was no void. And there surely wasn’t any screaming. 

Discourse of this type is mostly lacking—certainly in our government—but also in our personal interactions, especially those on social media. It seems that those who aren’t screaming, are busy sneering at their fellow man. Both sides see the other as being incapable of logical thought or reasoning toward a logical outcome. In my own household, I lean a little bit one way and my husband leans a little bit the other. Mostly we agree. Still, in this climate, it is so very difficult to talk to my life-partner, the guy who makes me laugh, the father of my children, without it becoming heated. We have had to make a concerted effort to control our emotions when we discuss this mess—even though we mostly agree. Whew. 

Oh, how I wish that EVERYTHING, from what kind of coffee you drink to your favorite sports figure weren’t politicized. I long for a societal climate where respect is the byword and “public servant” is taken seriously and literally as a career choice. 

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking that simply not re-electing this president will turn the tide back to civility. Unfortunately, he is not the only one guilty of petulant, vindictive behavior in Washington. Our screaming, sneering, and stamping goes much deeper than our elected officials–but they’re not helping.

If you build it 

There will be no civility in politics or otherwise if there is no energy spent on building relationships. This is my husband’s premise, and he is right. Relationships need to be repaired and forged across every damn aisle in society. By building respectful, healthy relationships, there is a prayer of affecting lasting change. Without relationships, THERE IS NO CHANGE. Without relationships, there is no hope for a different, better, great America. Let me be clear: you can differ on ANY issue and still not hate the person who differs from you. You can differ in your political views and still treat others as you wish to be treated. The Golden Rule: it’s a thing. 

 I plead with all of us to not scream, whether figuratively or literally, but to try to have meaningful, thoughtful conversations about today’s issues. Having these conversations face-to-face is paramount, as is not becoming angry. And, even if you aren’t talking about important issues, try to find the common ground to build some semblance of a relationship with those with whom you differ. You might just find out that you have more in common than you think. 

I’ll leave you with this: a list of people who got it right–they built relationships with those who differ politically from them and were the better for it:

PS—I am aware of the irony that my voice is another that’s just being lost in the void. 🙂

The 4 Part Harmony of Cultural Reconciliation




  1. the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.“20th century popular culture”
  2. a refined understanding or appreciation of culture.“men of culture”
  3. the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.“Caribbean culture”
  4. the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.“the emerging drug culture”

Culture is as much a part of your identity as the hair on your head—except you think about it a lot less . We ALL participate in multiple cultures while for the most part being completely unaware of it. Often, we think of other places as having a specific culture, whereas our own home is absent of it. To some, the idea of “culture” has become a sword to wield in defense of their roots. Conversely, it isn’t unusual for one group to disparage the culture of another group—largely without understanding the first thing about the “other”.

Think about all the cultures that you, individually, are a member of: the human race, your country-region-state-particular part of state, your city, town, or rural home, your ancestry, your family, your job, your place of worship, your clubs, your friend group. So many norms and customs go into the make up of any and all of these cultures.

Part 1:  Try the Food

I am reminded of the first Christmas I spent with the Kentucky side of my husband’s family. We had just gotten engaged and were still in that era of trying to spend the whole holiday as we had previously as single people. In other words–we managed to see everyone across two states. For a noon meal at my Great-Aunt Dorothy’s in Baltimore, Ohio, we had a lovely meal of ham, mashed potatoes, homemade rolls, green beans, iced tea, and a bunch of other deliciousness. We then hopped in the car to head to Richmond, Kentucky where we ate another delicious meal at Dan’s grandma’s house. Lillian, in the tradition of Southern cooks, I was about to find out, loved to cook with salt about as much as she loved to cook with sugar. I filled my plate with ham, mashed potatoes, homemade rolls, green beans, iced tea, and a bunch of other deliciousness. The potatoes and rolls were about the same, but the ham, beans and tea rocked my world. Rather, they rocked my tastebuds. Sooooooo salty! Except the tea, of course, which was soooooo sweet!

My point in all of this is that we were only one state away, and yet the cuisine had changed pretty markedly. If the food was this different, surely there were other cultural differences too. It has been a mostly wonderful, but sometimes confusing, journey to learn how cultures that appear quite similar might actually harbor profound differences when you take a closer look.

Besides cuisine, there have been variations in celebrations, language, habits, expectations, and values. I’m sure that anyone who has had close contact with friends or extended family from different regions of the country can attest to what I’m talking about.

Part 2: Learn the Language

As a Spanish teacher, I devoted my career to educating about Spanish-speaking cultures. Inevitably, there was a topic that my American students just couldn’t wrap their heads around;  it was “weird”. My standard explanation was that it wasn’t “weird”, just different.

Part of my mission as a language teacher was that I firmly believe that one cannot appreciate another culture without speaking the language—at least rudimentarily. The language of any given culture tells you a whole lot about the people that speak it. Courtesy, humor, belief systems, and behavior are all tied inextricably and intricately to language. For example, in Spanish, there is a verb mood and tense that does not exist in English. The Imperfect Subjunctive (as my students will remember fondly—lol) is used to express actions that the speaker wanted to happen (but they didn’t), or that the speaker had some sort of emotion about, or that the speaker recommended, or doubted—in the past. This tense is also used to express very polite communications—the difference between “I want” and “I would like”. I could go on and on with my explanation of this, obviously, but I mention it here to illustrate the fact that there are nuances of expression in different languages that reveal cultural intricacies. Without knowing the language, you cannot truly know a different culture. If one is referencing a difference in culture in which the language is shared, there are still differences in vocabulary and experience which require interpretation.

Part 3: Appreciate the Arts

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Hugh Jackman in concert. During the show, Hugh told the story of helping to build homes in the Outback as a young man. The performance included beautiful footage of the Outback accompanied by two didgeridoo musicians and two aboriginal vocalists. Their music transported us from an arena in Detroit, to an exotic place on the other side of the world. It. was. cool.

At the end of the piece, Hugh asked them to say a few words and he explained that his purpose in presenting them was to try to heal our broken world with “reconciliation through culture.” Wow. I was dumbstruck. What a wonderful concept—share your culture with someone in a non-threatening, non-in-your-face way and at the same time open their hearts to a different way of seeing the world.

Part 4: Leave Your Comfort Zone

Over the next weeks, as I ruminated about Hugh’s words, I remembered listening to Alexandra Billings at the Human Rights Campaign Gala in Columbus, 2018. Her message was about positively affecting culture (in this case anti-LGBTQ culture) by extending a hand and meeting people on a personal level. Her premise was that if one can humanize and personalize the greater culture of a group, it becomes less threatening and more familiar. I. loved. it.

I’ve written before about the importance of travel to combat bigotry and its ugly friends, all the ‘isms. You really don’t have to travel far, though, to find a culture that is “foreign” to you. Engaging in an experience that is new to you is likely a good place to start: go to a museum, attend an educational program at your library, volunteer at a food kitchen, etc.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4= Harmony

Isn’t the lack of familiarity the reason that anyone fears anything from another culture? Because it’s “weird”? Once it becomes familiar, however, the “weirdness” rather dissipates. One might even start to enjoy and accept. Goodness knows, I’ve learned to love salty ham and sweet tea! I also love philosophical discussions in Spanish and listening to extraordinary music from the other end of the world. I have dear friends from all over the world and all over the spectrum. My life is all the richer because of all these experiences.

As a society, we can make more progress, more growth, if we extend a hand, try to educate, and learn about each other before judging. In fact, don’t judge at all.  Welcome others into your culture and  be OPEN to theirs. Look for new experiences. The worst thing that’ll happen is that you’ll be changed for the better–and like Glinda and Elphaba sing in “Wicked”–you’ll be changed for good.