Civility

Peggy Noonan’s latest book is out, and Kathryn Jean-Lopez shares her thoughts, specifically a great anecdotal relating to the early days of the internet and civility:

There was a woman who, early on, wrote to say she hoped I would have a brain aneurysm as that’s what people with views such as mine deserve. This was, in those early days, so surprising to me that I actually wrote back and told her it’s not nice to write someone and say you wish them dead or disabled. She wrote back explaining why I deserved crippling. I actually wrote back, she responded. Fifteen years later we’re still writing. I believe, though she’s never quite said it, that she no longer wishes me dead, and I kind of love her. She’s passionate and sincere — she’s a good woman. She’ll write and say she hopes I have a nice weekend and I’m wrog about Hillary and should be fired.

In the early 2000s I wrote to a columnist at a San Francisco newspaper. I forget the nature of the column she wrote, but it was something I disagreed with, so I emailed her. I never heard back—and I definitely didn’t tell her she deserved an aneurysm—but it was a time when I was young or naive enough to think this technology was just a new way of communicating in good faith. That we could start genuine dialogue with others on issues that mattered. In general, that’s not how it’s played out. But we have to keep trying:

The word “civil,” like so many of our words today, can feel somewhat devoid of meaning, an excuse for watering things down, nostalgia for Barney the Purple Dinosaur and “Kumbaya.” But it’s nothing of the sort. If you are engaged in it truly, it’s nothing easy. It’s rigorous. It’s a rejection of indifference and an embrace of the fullness of humanity — to varying degrees, of course. And it can be weird online, awkward in person. But it leads to community and solidarity, things we surely need.

Published