No One Ever Praises Glue

The past year has been filled with argument and controversy, the latest examples being all the violent arguments over health care reform and the outburst of South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson — of “You Lie!” infamy.

We’re living in a time that’s becoming more and more of an “in-your-face” era, where the right to say and do anything in any place has become more and more apparent… and extolled as a societal virtue of sorts. This hasn’t happened overnight, of course, but the signs have been there. Some ten years ago, I was attending a community symphony performance of Handel’s Messiah. Unfortunately, a young man sitting in front of me kept talking during the singing. I tapped him on the shoulder and politely requested that he stop talking during the performance. He ignored me, and if anything, began to talk more loudly, as if the singers and I were intruding on his conversation. When I placed my hand on his shoulder, he became abusive and threatening for a moment… but he did stop talking — until after the concert when he suggested that my behavior was unbelievable and that if I weren’t so much older, he’d have knocked my block off — except his language was far ruder than that. He was disturbing everyone in three rows…if not more… but my asking him to be polite was absolutely insufferable? We’d all come to hear the concert, not him.

We have students texting in classes, shooting each other in schools and on the streets, and their parents threatening lawsuits against teachers who attempt to maintain discipline. We have talk show hosts and now politicians reaching new lows in their language and demeanor while effectively inciting violence or violent reactions to those with whom they disagree.

Less and less are people working things out, and more and more they shout, demanding that their opponents accept “the truth.” Since each side has a “truth,” all the shouting does is widen the gaps. “Tell it like it is” only means “tell it like I see it.” While there’s nothing wrong with telling your side of the story, it’s only one side. Sometimes, it’s the “better” side. Sometimes, it’s not, but the unspoken assumption today is that when “I” speak, it’s the truth, while “you” speak, you lie. And it’s far from persuasive when either side shouts the “truth.”

It used to be that what held groups together were small things, like manners, civility, a respect for the others as individuals, even when everyone’s views were not precisely the same. And there were people in those groups who tried to work out solutions on which most people could agree. And there was a recognition that resources were limited, and that not everyone could have everything.

These people, these manners and mannerisms, and these recognitions, were a form of glue, glue that held groups and societies together. The problem today is that everyone praises the individuals and the traits that divide society, and leadership seems to be defined by who shouts the loudest and in the most abusive manner, rather than by who tries to solve the problem. No one recognizes, let alone praises, the glue that once held us together.

How about a national day in praise of glue?