“I know I am but what are you!” This is an expression we’ve all heard at some point in our lives. Hopefully, if we are beyond middle school age, we haven’t heard it used recently nor have we used it as a response to anyone and or anything. As we get older the whole exercise of “calling people out” with “I’m rubber you’re glue whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you” transforms into what are known as “projections.”
Back in the day, we used to look up to our leaders and hold them up as a standard to emulate. They were heralded as examples of how to speak in public, how to engage in critical discourse while treating other people with respect whether we agreed with their opinions or not. There was a certain level of decorum and elevated speech in the rhetoric we heard from our public officials, clergy members, teachers, civic and community leaders. Study and intellectual curiosity were considered virtues and something that we were encouraged to aspire to embrace and strive towards as a measure of our maturity and intellectual capacity. Good manners were expected especially in public and there were often consequences for not living up to those standards particularly when in public spaces.
As we reflect on the public discourse we see today, it is clear that the measurements for decency and decorum that we once took for granted have been either pushed aside or intentionally ignored. People no longer consistently practice restraint and decorum in public it seems? In airports and on airplanes, people act as though they are completely alone and not at all in a “shared” space. Loud talking on cellphones with the phone volume maxed out on speakerphone at the crack of dawn for the first of the day flights, no shoes and socks aboard flights for hours, kicking the back of seats over and over, loud talking and playing music in headphones so loud that we all can hear it even with headphones on. All of this behavior is exhibited with absolutely no sense of a shared public space or a basic respect for those who have no choice but to be in that space with you.
Our culture has become more boorish and self-centered. Bullying is an epidemic that has caused children to kill themselves in order to escape the shame, pain or depression that it causes. And when we look to those who hold the highest leadership positions in the land, those behaviors are now glorified on the evening news. Our President is consistently spewing hate speech and profanity while bullying and demeaning the people he claims to lead. When we are ashamed of the behavior of our president and we cannot allow our children to listen to him because the language he uses is base, demeaning and profane, we, as a nation, have a serious problem in moral leadership and basic good manners and decorum. No wonder our children are confused and calling us out for our hypocrisy.
News of the sudden death of Elijah Cummings, U.S. Congressman and civil rights icon representing the State of Maryland, was so devastating. It is because Representative Cummings was a man of honor, integrity and dignity. It reminds us of the demeanor and decorum that we the people should expect from our leaders. Mr. Cummings will be missed by an entire nation of people. Leaders like Cummings and others remind us of the responsibility of leadership. We must emulate leadership like his and not be dragged into schoolyard gutter talk.
The state of our cultural discourse today has devolved into a juvenile, adolescent, profanity laced, ill-tempered rant led by the so-called “leader of the free world.” We do not have to participate. Let us be the examples we want our young people to follow. When we know better, we should be doing better.