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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The best and worst in us

     Posted by Rich Harwood    

  • Many people have urged me to write about the acrimonious and divisive public discourse that has gripped the nation around health care. But each time someone has made this request, I found that they themselves would engage in some form of incivility. The question is: Where are we right now, and where do we want to go?

    Whether you like the legislation or not, the passage of the historic health care bill has revealed glimpses of the worst in us. You’ll remember that much of the nation’s discord hit a noticeable low during last summer’s infamous town hall meetings. Perhaps then we thought the worst of our lousy discourse was over; and yet now we know that assumption would have been wrong. In just the past week we’ve reached new lows as we’ve witnessed the spewing of homophobic and racist comments, and with some congressional members being labeled “baby killers.”

    I hear such comments and wonder what has gotten into those who utter them, those who repeat them, and those who egg others on. Yes, we’ve heard such hatred at times in the past; but does that fact make such comments good and right now? And what makes matters worse today is our ability to communicate at any moment and reach millions of people at once. One ugly comment then begets another, and on and on it goes.

    During the 1990s, I was not one of those in the civic world who embraced what might have been deemed the “civility movement.” I cringed when people would associate my own work and efforts with civility. I thought there was a kind of Miss Manners’ notion at play – if only each of us would be “nice” to one another, then the world would be a better place. But political discourse ought to be filled with tension, drama, and emotion; after all, when people care about something, they get worked up.

    But that was then, and this is now. Today, our public discourse seems filled with hatred and rage, at times unmitigated and unfiltered, even reckless, often ridiculous. The Glenn Beck’s of the world lather people up into a tizzy, oftentimes seeming to have forgotten their original point, other than to destroy their so-called opponent. Those on the left are not immune from such criticism either.

    But perhaps the larger point is that none of us are immune – that is, those who purport to want to move the country forward, and those who cherish some semblance of good, if not heated, public discourse. So many of the people who asked me to write this piece did so, themselves, using the word “hate” or “stupid” or “idiot” in the same sentence as their request – as in, “I hate those stupid idiots who say….”

    There’s enough hatred to go around these days; there’s also ample belief that the person on the other side of the debate from us is just plain stupid – perhaps even an idiot. But we don’t gain anything by engaging in such discourse. In fact, we lose something each time we go down that ugly path. No one individual controls public discourse; but each of us contributes to it.

    No one can put a halt to the hatred we are now witnessing; but none of us has to help in its spread. No one should stop expressing their heart-felt emotions about something as important as health care; but none of us should believe that anything goes in public discourse.

    Our negative comments spread like a contagion, gaining more and more momentum when left unchecked, and can leave us sick to our stomach and doubled-over. It’s time to swear off such comments and stand-up straight. So here’s a test I urge you to consider: When you make your point, do so with as much emotion and tension as necessary, but can we leave the hatred behind?

    Rick Harwood is founder and director of the Harwood Institute.

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Still no tamale's!

Net Neutrality.

Who owns the Intenet? A Federal Court this morning (4/6/2010) reports that it is no the Federal Communication Commission, according to the Washington DC Circut Court of Appeals. Two years ago FCC decided Comcast was not allowed to block some of its customers from using a file sharing service called Bit-Torrent to download high memory programming.

All traffic on the Internet Should be Treated Equally

This concept of New Neutrality says that the provider of your Internet Provider must treat all sources of information equally. The court now allows service providers to slow down or block a service that competes with the companies interests or control of their bandwidth, if it wanted to. It also brings into question the entire FCC plans for bringing the nation into the Internet Era, increasing Broad Band access to all Americans and increasing the speed substantially.

Business argues that the Internet is fast moving, fast changing and a 'cop on the beat' (the government) could slow things down and limit the potential for Americans.

Of course we underuse that potential in a very big way. Not only do most people use high speed internet for sources that do not require that speed and bandwidth, but we have barely scrattched the surface of the information out there to mine and put to use.

Quality information, opinion, entertainment and data is out there, but you really have to work at finding it.


I came across another reason to study, understand and use communication skills effectively. It boils down to leadership, or in this case being the one to keep everyone on message, mission and focus: the Torchbearer.

From a communication blog:

"There are times in organizations when the routine methods of communication are inadequate. Memos, meetings and informal networks are not enough when the objective is a major shift in attitudes or organizational culture. These situations often require a "torchbearer", a person whose mission it is to repeat the message, clearly and frequently. A torchbearer is a highly visible and well known, with a strong personal presence and high credibilty. The person is either in a senior leadership role or seen as a representative of senior leadership. The role of torchbearer is neither accidental or episodic. It requires skill, planning, focus and a commitment of time and energy, to get in front of people on multiple occasions with a consistent message. "

Have you ever been one?

Under what circumstances might you be called upon to be one.

First posted 9-18-09