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Thursday, June 10, 2010

America - A Loss of Dignity

We've had a lot of anti-Obama email cross our desk. Kinda nice for a change to have a simple op/ed piece that doesn't try to throw thunder and lighting with every sentence.

My brother sent this to me. I found it rather interesting reading.

I generally agree with his viewpoint . . . civility has been shunted aside in political discussion and actions. It's time to mind our manners, both ours and the politicos.

If we do that, our nation will be a better place. So will our world.


Op-Ed Columnist
In Search of Dignity
Published: July 6, 2009

When George Washington was a young man, he copied out a list of 110
“Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Some
of the rules in his list dealt with the niceties of going to a dinner
party or meeting somebody on the street.

“Lean not upon anyone,” was one of the rules. “Read no letter, books or
papers in company,” was another. “If any one come to speak to you while
you are sitting, stand up,” was a third.

But, as the biographer Richard Brookhiser has noted, these rules, which
Washington derived from a 16th-century guidebook, were not just etiquette
tips. They were designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward
man. Washington took them very seriously. He worked hard to follow them.
Throughout his life, he remained acutely conscious of his own rectitude.

In so doing, he turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t
primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon
Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a
classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of
temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”

Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the
dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s
Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in
constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions.
Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their

The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to
endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded
its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by
parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be
dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political

Remnants of the dignity code lasted for decades. For most of American
history, politicians did not publicly campaign for president. It was
thought that the act of publicly promoting oneself was ruinously
corrupting. For most of American history, memoirists passed over the
intimacies of private life. Even in the 19th century, people were
appalled that journalists might pollute a wedding by covering it in the

Today, Americans still lavishly admire people who are naturally
dignified, whether they are in sports (Joe DiMaggio and Tom Landry),
entertainment (Lauren Bacall and Tom Hanks) or politics (Ronald Reagan
and Martin Luther King Jr.).

But the dignity code itself has been completely obliterated. The rules
that guided Washington and generations of people after him are simply

We can all list the causes of its demise. First, there is capitalism. We
are all encouraged to become managers of our own brand, to do
self-promoting end zone dances to broadcast our own talents. Second,
there is the cult of naturalism. We are all encouraged to discard
artifice and repression and to instead liberate our own feelings. Third,
there is charismatic evangelism with its penchant for public confession.
Fourth, there is radical egalitarianism and its hostility to aristocratic

The old dignity code has not survived modern life. The costs of its
demise are there for all to see. Every week there are new scandals
featuring people who simply do not know how to act. For example, during
the first few weeks of summer, three stories have dominated public
conversation, and each one exemplifies another branch of indignity.

First, there was Mark Sanford’s press conference. Here was a guy utterly
lacking in any sense of reticence, who was given to rambling
self-exposure even in his moment of disgrace. Then there was the death of
Michael Jackson and the discussion of his life. Here was a guy who was
apparently untouched by any pressure to live according to the rules and
restraints of adulthood. Then there was Sarah Palin’s press conference.
Here was a woman who aspires to a high public role but is unfamiliar with
the traits of equipoise and constancy, which are the sources of authority
and trust.

In each of these events, one sees people who simply have no social norms
to guide them as they try to navigate the currents of their own passions.

Americans still admire dignity. But the word has become unmoored from any
larger set of rules or ethical system.

But it’s not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there
is the fact of President Obama. Whatever policy differences people may
have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion
and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his
presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He
may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a
new set of rules for self-mastery.

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