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Middletown’s future: Tolerating differences and moving forward

Posted 8/23/16

“Why can’t we all just get along?” I know I used this quote in a previous blog or column that I wrote awhile back and I really didn’t want to use it again, but Rodney King’s plaintive question is still the best comment on divisiveness that …

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Middletown’s future: Tolerating differences and moving forward

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“Why can’t we all just get along?” I know I used this quote in a previous blog or column that I wrote awhile back and I really didn’t want to use it again, but Rodney King’s plaintive question is still the best comment on divisiveness that I have heard. 

Simple and stark, these words get to the heart of the matter. At the time they were said, racism was strikingly obvious, especially in certain areas of the country, social media was more than 10 years away, and the highly publicized Trial of the Century (the O.J. Simpson murder trial) wasn’t even on the radar because the crime hadn’t been committed yet. 

These events contributed to a society that makes those words more relevant and poignant than ever. The Trial of the Century in 1995 changed the way the media cover events. Despite the horror of the crime, the trial became 24- hour entertainment, covered by all the major networks and exploited by cable news in a way that shaped modern media coverage. 

Anyone can watch “the news” 24 hours a day in formats that present it the way they want to hear it. Traditional news stations and cable channels offer many shows that are clearly slanted and geared to a certain audience, conservatives and liberals alike. Facebook, born in 2004, opened the door for people to communicate, share, pontificate, gossip and rant whenever they wanted to an audience far larger than any of us had ever experienced in the past. 

This is both good and bad — good because we can now express ourselves and communicate more broadly even we have greater access to information; bad because much of the information is shaped and slanted, and social media has made it much easier to express our hatred and disgust as freely as we share family news, happy slogans, and favorite recipes. 

So how does this contribute to why we all can’t get along? I have some thoughts, most of which are opinion, based on what I observe and hear and how I evaluate it. The only possible criteria I might have is that I have worked as a social worker and therapist for many years and my field of study and career choice has given me access to solid facts via research as well as the peculiar and sometimes inexplicable workings of the human mind. 

What I have been observing more and more, particularly in politics and government, both nationally and locally, is a kind of intolerance for ideas, opinions and beliefs that do not reflect our own. 

Discussion is good, debate is good, arguments are good and differences are good, but disparaging people who don’t agree with you is bad, character attacks on people because of their political affiliations and choices are bad, and mean spirited judgments are bad. 

I stated above that much of what I am writing is based on opinion. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope they don’t personally attack me because even though it has become very common for people to do this to each other, it’s just plain wrong. It is eroding our society, our communities, our country. It is destroying friendships, professional relationships, civil discourse, and most of all, the respect that every person deserves at face value as a fellow human being no matter how flawed or damaged they may be. 

I have never seen so much hatred and anger in social and other forms of media as I see every day when I read Facebook or watch a “relevant” political discussion. At one time I loved to watch, listen and take part in a fiery political debate, I enjoyed exchanging opinions and engaging in arguments and discussion, trying out my ideas and sharing my thoughts. Now, I analyze myself endlessly, envisioning every possible response I may get, how I might be misinterpreted, how some will judge me, what insults and hostile comments will be coming my way and how many people will witness my humiliation in the face of these possibilities. 

It’s easy to say we shouldn’t care, we shouldn’t be afraid to express our beliefs, what other people think isn’t important and that it shouldn’t matter, but it does, and it hurts, and it takes away our willingness to share and eventually we become very narrow people with narrow views and narrow beliefs. People become discouraged, disparaged, disengaged, and dismissed and how can we all get along in the face of that? 

I don’t know. I do know that our country was founded on the people’s right to express their ideas and opinions without being belittled or bullied, support political leaders without repercussions, worship without judgment, experience equal opportunity, and live with dignity and respect. 

Our country is very divisive right now and so are our communities. We seem to be in a place where being right is more important than being tolerant, making a point is more important than doing the right thing, being in control is more important than being democratic, and speaking loudly is more important than listening. I think it is appalling that personal attacks on candidates are considered more important than their policies and history of service or private sector achievements and leadership. Personal attacks on the character, intelligence, and integrity of those who support those candidates is insufferable. We support candidates for many reasons and no one should be judged personally on the basis of their political affiliation. 

It is not news to anyone that Middletown has experienced its share of divisiveness and duplicity, character attacks and bullying. There are some Facebook pages that are particularly harmful and toxic and there is clearly a propensity for arguing over petty topics. 

I think council is trying to move away from this, trying to listen to the community, trying to be more open, trying to do the right thing. It is human nature to quarrel, vie for power, shift allegiances, and attempt to manipulate the thoughts and actions of others. It is our duty as elected officials to be cautious, careful, self-aware, and ever mindful of how easy it is to fall into these patterns, how quickly we can become short-sighted, and how disciplined we must be in our words, actions, communications and advocacy. 

It is your duty as our constituents to hold us to the highest standards and keep us focused on how we can best serve you. My greatest hope for this town, for the residents, the elected officials, the business people, and those with whom we share our ideas is that we answer Rodney King’s question not by blindly agreeing with each other or being fearful of expressing ourselves but rather by engaging in vigorous debate, balanced arguments, respectful opinions, and civil behaviors. 

We can agree to disagree, present our points of view, tolerate differences, work together and move forward with regard, if not endorsement, of personal beliefs, feelings and thoughts. That is the answer to the question; that is the solution to the problem. Hopefully, that is the future of Middletown. 

Anne Einhorn represents the Second Ward on the Middletown Borough Council.