Out of Order

I have watched closely over the past week as the final moments of legislative process led to the passing of a new health care bill.  If you have hope that what I’m about to say will enlighten you whether or not this bill is a good one, I’m going to disappoint you.

Instead, I want to turn your attention to our growing adoption of misbehavior as a path of choice in public conversations.  I am disappointed in the behavior of our congressman from the great State of Texas who shouted his thoughts about the health care bill (“It’s a baby killer!”) during the address of his colleague from Michigan.

Does he have a right to make such statements?  Yes, he has the constitutional right of free speech.  My concern is that he chose to level those remarks at a time that violated the rules of conduct of the House of Representatives.  It simply wasn’t his time to speak.  The news media reports that he has made a public apology — seemingly because his shout was initially heard as a personal attack on the other representative.  At this time, however, he refuses to apologize on the House floor for his actions.

Having watched C-SPAN, I know that his behavior was not different from many on both sides of the aisle.  Nothing in me tells me that others breaking the rules makes bad behavior permissible.  I believe that he should apologize for breaking with decorum.

Then, yesterday at the festivities surrounding the signing of the bill, our Vice President introduces the President and as he moves aside, leans forward and, in a stage whisper loud enough for the microphones to pick up, tells the President that “This is a big deal!”  At least that was the meaty part of his comment.  He also chose to use an adjective that rarely meets the boundaries of free speech — an expletive that divides movies suitable for our children from those that are not.  A word that does often fit inside the definition of “fighting words.”  And fighting words do not always carry constitutional protection.

Now, you and I both know that language is used all of the time that some of us would consider inappropriate and, yes, even sinful.  You could also argue that “colorful” speech has edged its way into our everyday lives and we should simply acquiesce.  After all, words are just words, right?

I saw further evidence of this on a major television network this morning.  In reporting on the incident with the Vice President and looking at other “open mic” gaffs, a prominent news anchor opined that some are worse than others and “we all know that the Vice President’s language” was a result of his exuberance in the moment.  Later in that same program, a guest expert on health care was asked to comment on a certain health recommendation.  She, to the laughter of that same news anchor and everyone on the set, said, “I want to join the Vice President’s club.  Give me a break!”  She paused, of course, to indicate where in the sentence she would insert that same expletive.

I’m in the minority on this issue, I suppose.  However, from my experience at my mediation table, people make real progress toward resolution and reconciliation when they make the choice to follow a code of civil behavior.  In fact, I can never remember a single time when misbehavior did anything but escalate the conflict.

So, Congressman, Vice President, news anchor person and today’s expert on health care, let me just say that your choice of words and behavior have just guaranteed that those who have even a slight disagreement with you are not likely to listen to anything else you have to say.

Simply put, you are out of order.  If you seriously want collaboration, resolution, and reconciliation, make the first move back to civility.

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11 Responses to Out of Order

  1. Dorinda says:

    Amen, Joey! You put into words what the rest of us think but don’t take the time to write down. Thanks!

  2. Laurie Rizan says:

    I would much rather someone yell out what is the TRUTH in their frustration–no matter how inappropriate is the venue–than to hear someone else speak UNTRUTHS very boldly and confidently, like our current president and his cohorts do in the same Congressional settings.

  3. Laurie Rizan says:

    Oops! Forgot to click on notify so had to come back :)

  4. Darla Bumgardner says:

    I agree Dr. Cope.

    Today, my class could not wait to tell me what happened yesterday, they know I do not watch television. Tomorrow, we will debate the Health Care issues in class. I have “set” the rules of proper behavior and apologized for the behavior they saw on television.

    My students were shocked that a person of power would use such language. Maybe we should debate this issue.

    Darla Bumgardner

  5. Andy Turner says:

    At some point, as has been the case at least twice in our great county’s history, decorum and civility take a back seat to conscience and truth.

  6. Linda Hunt says:

    In order to be “counted”, I wish to leave a post.

    First I ask if Truth & Conscience are that hard to recognize? Personally I don’t think it is that difficult to recognize those who are truthful and have a conscience.

    Are we to be “civil” over abortion? Who has witnessed such….murder? I HAVE! It isn’t pretty. Are our hearts so hardened that we meekly allow such to be paid for with our tax dollars? Much less that it would even take place at all! That we refuse to speak out? Is THIS type of MURDER ok?

    Have any one of you spoken out against the lies, bribes, & blackmail used to achieve the magic vote numbers required in order to pass this healthcare bill? Or have some covered their eyes & ears to this sort of thing?

    So some think Randy violated rules of conduct by speaking out….. the truth…”It’s A baby killer”. So you think he should apologize some more. For the sake of being civil.

    In a perfect world, ALWAYS being civil would be ideal. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Try as we might to be as civil as possible, sometimes, at the end of a long drawn out day, it just working working. Peace at any price, isn’t always peace.

    I leave you with the following thought: was Jesus “civil” when he took action against the money changers in the temple?

    God bless the United States of America!

  7. Joey Cope says:

    Thanks for all of your comments! Interesting question from Linda regarding truth and conscience. I still respectfully note that I never asked the congressman to apologize for the content of his statement. I simply asked that he apologize for violating rules of conduct that he had previously agreed to uphold. To do anything else has us saying that “the ends justify the means.” Great atrocities have occurred as a part of this philosophy. And there’s something else. Jesus’ life was not one of passivity. Yet his most powerful act was one in which he prayed, “Not my Will, but thine be done.” As we approach this Easter Sunday, I hope that we will remember that Jesus was unjustly accused, wrongly convicted, and thus, unlawfully executed. And though he could have “called 10,000 angels” to his defense, he submitted to the actions of men acting under color of law so that we would have hope of reconciliation. Regardless of how you feel about this current conversation, the good news is that we’ve seen the end of the story and God wins.

  8. Mike Garver says:

    I have heard these discussions several times from different camps. I think the part that is missing is not that the Vice President or some actor or some sports figure uses inappropriate language or is caught up in some scandal, but what is the root cause of this decline in civility? One of my patients was watching an old program on television, I think it was Gunsmoke. I talked to him about why he was watching that program. He said, “Because it is what my mother let me watch when I was a kid.” Imagine, a mother taking an active role in what her son watches on television.

    My point is that the family has disintegrated. Mothers and fathers, if they are married, work long hours and come home tired. They pop an instant dinner in the microwave or pick something up from a fast food joint. There is no question about whether homework is done, and there is very little responsibility for “chores”. Everyone sits down and watches hours of mindless sitcoms about murder, sex, and crime that is heavily peppered with profanity.

    While the divorce rate has not been climbing as much as it did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rate of cohabitation has gone up dramatically. I asked one 20-something woman why she and her boyfriend were not married. “Because all our friends that get married have gotten divorced.” was her answer.

    Not only has civility lost its place in our society, but the importance of family has lost its value in our society. With the erosion of the family has come the loss of discipline and respect for a civil society.

    While I agree with Dr. Cope about the end of the story, I also remember the actions of Christ when He entered the Temple and saw the money changers. He was angry and He did something about it. We do have hope base on our Risen Lord, but we are also Christ’s Ambassadors, and we represent Him.

    Thank you for letting me put my .02 worth in.

  9. Joey Cope says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mike. Good thoughts!

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