Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Editor Joe Hight: Extend civility beyond online commenting

Joe Hight Updated: April 6, 2014 at 2:52 pm

A headline in a recent Gazette declared that "You are free to be annoying."

The story was about how the Grand Rapids, Mich., City Commission was nixing a 38-year-old city code that stated "no person shall willfully annoy another person." The city attorney had deemed that the code was unenforceable.

In today's society, it seems that simply being annoying has evolved into being outrageously uncivil at times. I addressed the issue of civil online commenting in earlier columns and how name calling, personal insults, racism and curse words aren't allowed on Gazette.com. However, as some readers pointed out, the fact that some of us insist on continuing these types of comments shows something about our society that extends beyond the world of social media.

We can see examples in sports where parents and fans are kicked off fields or out of gyms because of their behavior toward players or referees.

One well-publicized incident this year was when Oklahoma State University basketball star Marcus Smart shoved a Texas Tech fan in the closing seconds of the game after the fan insulted him. Smart did the right thing by apologizing after being given a three-game suspension; the fan also apologized and volunteered not to attend more Texas Tech games for the rest of the season. However, whether you sided with Smart or the fan, it's still not unusual to see fans screaming obscenities and insults at players and refs.

It happens in public forums, too. During the question-and-answer time at a recent Community Conversations on City for Champions, one side took the offensive and seized control of the microphones from the Colorado College student ambassadors. The audience members loudly voiced their opinions, some without even asking questions. It wasn't the only time this lack of respect for others has been shown, either.

Because of this, The Gazette has decided to allow questions from the audience in the future at Community Conversations, but those probably will come in the form of ones written on cards and read by the moderator. This form of questioning seemed to work well at the recent special dialogue on mental health.

While there are negative examples, there are positive ones, too. Ones in which players shake hands after games. Where people openly greet others on the street even though they are different. Where political opposites congratulate each other after a debate on the issues and not the personalities. Where we respect others' opinions and respond reasonably while avoiding venomous reactions. These are the examples that one Colorado organization hopes others will emulate.

The Foundation for a Better Life, based in Denver, uses public service messages and videos to reinforce or change people's mindsets. The messages of compassion, vision, helping others, inspiration, achievement, leadership, character, optimism, sportsmanship, mentoring and many other themes are heard or seen several million times a day in more than 200 countries. The Gazette has been carrying these public service advertisements in recent months.

One of the organization's online videos at Values.com is on civility and shows two adults arguing and name-calling at a public meeting until they catch the eyes of a young girl who looks disapprovingly at both of them. She then says both deserve a "Timeout," the video's name. They stop and begin to realize the impact of their bickering, and both declare they do deserve a "timeout." It's a humorous message with a point.

Gary Dixon, the nonprofit organization's president, said the onset of political commentary shows has proliferated the "I simply want to make my statement" without being constructive or listening to others' thoughts. The spirited debate becomes personal and emotional, he said, and suddenly no one benefits from it.

"When respect is there, there's listening going on. There's opportunity to change your mind if someone persuades you the other way. There are great ideas out there, and if you're not respecting the person who may be presenting them, you've lost an opportunity," said Dixon, who has been with the unaffiliated organization since its inception 14 years ago. "The engine of progress is in listening to each other."

Colorado and Colorado Springs face many issues, important ones that will shape our community's future. We can disagree on how to get there, but it's important that we treat others with respect, listen to them, consider all sides and then offer constructive comments without flying off into a road rage in our online or public comments. We don't need to dominate the discussion but be a civil part of it.

Dixon said he knows many people are hungry for more civility, as well as the need for more statesmen and stateswomen. They want more Ronald Reagans and Tip O'Neills who disagreed on issues but who were respectful and cordial with each other. They want more respect for their commentary and safe environments where they can offer constructive criticism on issues. They can be annoying without resorting to screaming, name calling, insults, racist comments, curse words or the need to dominate or, even worse, discriminate without offering time to the other side.

That kind of civility goes for online commenting as well as those comments made in public places.

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You Can Help

Please help us in the community of online commenting. If you see possible abuses or violations of the commenting policy, send an email to comments@gazette.com. Our Web team will look into the matter as soon as possible. (It should be noted that the email is intended for concerns about commenting on gazette.com.)

You can find out more about The Foundation for a Better Life and what values it emphasizes by going to its website at Values.com.

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