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A Small Truth

Everyone’s angry. Everyone’s ready to pop off. No one has patience. and hardly anyone remembers an old-fashioned, slightly nostalgic word these days: courtesy.

No, I’m not going off on a rant about psychology. But ranting is what an awful lot of people are doing. Have you been to a blog recently? Try the AJC’s blogs to get a sampling of the meanness and divisiveness that’s out there now. Whether it’s politics or sports, or even a discussion on traffic, bloggers are angry and they’re not going to put up with it any longer. And they’re not going to put up with anyone who doesn’t agree with them any longer, either. Blogging has become symptomatic of our national mindset: take no prisoners.

We just concluded a rancorous Republican National Convention. We’re headed to a rancorous Democratic National Convention. And don’t bother blogging about the results of either, because what you’ll get is name-calling, misstatements of fact (to put it pleasantly), rumors, condescension and really batty concepts, all delivered at a shout. I challenge anyone to show me that a blog entry has ever changed anyone’s mind, which begs the question of why we can’t just take it down a notch.

It all puts me in mind of one of my favorite historians, Jim Cobb, who holds a distinguished chair in history at UGA and is the former president of the Southern Historical Association. His area of expertise is Southern history, and he has written about it with great insight and occasional good humor in a well-received books. One of them is “Away Down South,” published in 2005, in which he looked at the fascinating topic of Southern identity. Some of his conclusions bear directly on what I’ve been writing about here, and I hope some of the bloggers, at least, might take these lines to heart:

“To a world where diminishing national distinctions may make other sorts of group distinctions seem far too important and sometimes even matters of life and death, the South’s experience surely says that any identity — national, regional, cultural, or otherwise [even political] — that can be sustained only by demonizing or denigrating other groups exacts a terrible toll, not simply on the demonized and denigrated but ultimately on those who can find self-affirmation only by rejecting others.”

I wish I could say it as well as Jim Cobb. Too many of us are affirming our own beliefs by running down those of others. By showing no respect for those who believe differently, we minimize ourselves. By demanding that others accept what we hold true, we speak against our country’s basic principles. And we lessen ourselves in the process.

It’s shabby. It’s a shame. And I suspect the people who need most to stop it will never, ever read Jim Cobb’s words. Much less act on them.

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