Let’s write it out, aim for civility

Civility. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, you’ve no doubt heard grumblings about the lack of it lately. Maybe we should put some action behind our words.

Attend local meetings and it isn’t long before the topic of civility arises. Many are worried about interacting with relatives who hold different opinions. Others are worried about the future, concerned their way of life is threatened.

For all the wonders of our technological age, in this respect, computers and connectivity has worked against us. The easy road is to surround ourselves with similar viewpoints, ignoring or outright dismissing arguments from those with a different perspective. We don’t have to talk, don’t have to have discussions — at least not discussions that vary more than a few degrees from our own point of reference.

And, when we do encounter something from the other side, the internet and social media has made it all too easy to lash out, with little fear of any real repercussions for our bad behavior.

So, I have a suggestion. Let’s forget trying to change the culture of the internet and work instead on changing the culture of our communities.

Civility - An elementary school student writes in cursive on a piece of paper.
An elementary school student writes in cursive on a piece of paper. (The Gazette)

To get to a kinder and gentler state, let’s start by reaching out to the people who have made a difference in our lives. Let’s put pens to paper and write old-fashioned letters to one another — enclose them in a holiday card, if you must. The important part is to recognize someone — a teacher, coach, co-worker, mentor, friend or neighbor — in a way that takes a little more forethought, requires a little more time. Bonus points if you reach out to someone with whom you otherwise have little agreement.

Why a traditional letter? Writing on paper improves memory recall and encourages critical thinking. It is linked to improved creativity and problem-solving skills.

Writing by hand involves both sensory experiences and fine motor skills. You feel the writing surface, as well as the pen or pencil in your hand. It requires the writer to think, and to direct precise movement with thought.

For these reasons, when I’m having a difficult time with a column topic, I will write it out by hand. It allows me to better consider each word, and to slow down so I can listen more intently to myself as I go.

Recipients of a written letter immediately understand that the writer placed extra time and emphasis on the correspondence. What was commonplace a few years ago is now an unusual treasure.

Those willing to take on this holiday mission — and I truly hope many do — should choose recipients wisely. Who helped you out of bind? Who offered support when you faced a difficult challenge? Who made sure that you knew you were valued, or believed in you? Did another person’s response to adversity inspire you? Maybe there is someone who always greets you warmly and sincerely, and helps you get your day off to a good start.

This holiday season, as we contemplate our good fortune and set goals for the coming year, let’s combine thankfulness and civility. We should make a point of telling those who have made a difference in our lives how important they are. Grab your pen.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Nov. 22, 2017.