Opinion Columns & Blogs

September 20, 2009

Vasche: Be civil or we'll have to put your letter in the round file

We received a letter the other day that offered yet another sad example of the slow but steady coarsening of our culture.

It was directed at one of our elected officials, and it was vitriolic and venomous, to say the least. It started out heated and harsh and quickly descended to crass and crude.

We rejected the letter, only later to put up with an equally malicious and mean-spirited phone conversation with the angry author.

Coincidentally — or maybe not so — the next morning I found myself reading from the Bible's book of Proverbs. I'm always struck at how these words of wisdom ring true today, nearly 3,000 years after they were written by Solomon. And on this particular morning, I was struck at how they tied in to what happened the day before, and what is happening more and more, not just in the paper's interactions with readers but in everyday people's everyday conversations.

Time and time again, this piece of Scripture deals with the power of words — and the fact that what we say or write probably affects more people in more ways than anything else we do.

You don't have to be a Bible reader or believer to see the truth in such proverbs as:

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity."

"A gentle answer turns away wrath."

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."

"The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit."

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

A brief commentary I read suggested what we say (and, I would add, write) falls into four categories.

First, there's the controlled tongue, which thinks before speaking (or e-mailing), knows when to stay silent and offers sound advice.

Then there's the caring tongue, which speaks truthfully but tactfully, with a constructive goal of encouraging and improving.

Then there's the conniving tongue, which speaks with wrong motives and uses gossip, rumors and slander to twist the truth.

And finally, there's the careless tongue, which utters lies, curses and hot-tempered words that lead to damage and destruction.

It seems to me that we're hearing more and more these days from conniving and careless tongues, whether it's in political debate, civic dialogue or personal relationships.

That's a shame, because what we really need — especially in these stressed-out times — are more and more controlled and caring tongues.

At The Bee, we've always championed citizens' First Amendment rights, including that of free speech.

As part of that, we provide a forum for public discussion, in both print and online, in that gives considerable latitude for people to express their views — and even to have spirited disagreements.

It's hard for that discussion to be meaningful and productive when coarseness and crassness turn it into more of a locker room conversation.

We believe that even the most pronounced differences of opinion can be expressed in civilized and courteous ways.

So, if you submit a letter that's filled with personal attacks and poor taste, don't expect it to be printed. If you choose to clean it up and resubmit it, we'll consider it. Otherwise, it'll end up with the rest of the trash.

Vasché can be reached at mvasche@modbee.com or 578-2356.

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