EDITOR’S NOTE: In this column, journalism veteran Patrick Webb argues that Facebook has its faults but can be a power to unite. He believes if used properly, with a positive tone, it will be especially important when the Trump-Pence “blip” is over. Meanwhile, he recommends personal kindness and civility in all interactions as the two highest priorities for the nation.
America is sick. How are we going to heal it?
After an earlier column fretting about America, a former news colleague reached out with clarity and forcefulness: “You know, if you don’t like the way we are here in the USA, don’t try to change us (your country tried in 1776 and failed). Wouldn’t it be easier for you to just go back to England?”
In case you haven’t noticed, my native England is rather messed up too. It would take too long to explain why; in short, the kingdom is not united.
So, America, you are stuck with me, for better for worse. I feel an obligation to try to make our world a better place. And, as a first-generation immigrant, the United States has been my home for the past 38 years.
Diversity in thought
One worldwide organization of which I am a local leader is considering its first social media guidelines for members in Washington, where I live. These will encourage civility among those who publicly identify as members.
Facebook is part of the civility problem, but such flexible and easy-to-access opinion-sharing options may prove to be a solution to unite us. I was cynical at first, but now enjoy its group-hug capability. It is a terrible way to learn about a death, but posting immediate tributes has a slight healing effect. I deliberately link with people whose political views differ from mine. I believe I can learn a lot. We must endure in some semblance of harmony.
I have “unfriended” three regional members of my club in recent months, turned off by their bigoted snarling. But generally I welcome diversity in thought. One example is a favorite former colleague in the Midwest, one of three people on my “friends” list I consider a genius. He is a fervent right-to-lifer. It is educational to watch him argue his points, despite my view that all women should chose when or whether they have kids, which is diametrically opposed to his beliefs.
Despite Facebook’s widespread cruelty, it offers many good things. It is refreshing to view parents of 4-H members describing their children’s successes at the county fair. I don’t own a pet, but I mostly find yours cute. But I also observe people — whom I otherwise like and respect — posting obvious lies about their political opponents, some of whom are no longer in power (B. Clinton, Bush, Obama) or were never voted into power (H. Clinton). False comparisons and backward finger-pointing are irrelevant.
What to do?
So, apart from civility, what can individuals do to make our world a better place?
How about speaking up when something is wrong or someone’s behavior is inappropriate? Last summer, I found myself in a retail establishment when a gentleman I know was berating the counter clerk over prices. Looking back, I regret staying silent. What a coward I was!
How about some courtesy? Maybe it is time for us all to re-read “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum.
I genuinely believe deep down, most share a common goal of making our communities a better place. How we get there should be the topic of civil, truthful discourse; it will be such a better journey if the tone is polite.
Unexpected kindness goes a long way. Two winters ago, Karen Harrell placed a rack in the covered alley outside Long Beach Pharmacy in Washington and invited residents to place coats and other warm clothing there — free for people in need. She did it again just before last Christmas. Some people abused this opportunity, taking multiple items, then selling them online, but I hope they were the minority. As the coats disappeared, residents kindly replenished the supplies. Actions like this signal fresh hope for our society.
Where do we go from here? Up! Who’s with me?
Patrick Webb is the retired managing editor of The Daily Astorian. He lives on the Long Beach Peninsula.