I was in a store waiting for service last Friday when I heard a thought-provoking exchange between an employee and another customer. The TV was tuned to Fox News’ coverage of the presidential inauguration, and the topic at hand was the rash of protests — violent and non-violent — sparked by the swearing in of the nation’s new president.
The man behind the counter said something to the tune of, “A well-placed sniper would take care of those protesters real quick.”
A moment later, a middle-aged woman also watching the TV said, “Ha! They’re not worth the ammo.”
To put it plainly, I was disgusted. I guess it had been a while since I had heard a conservative say a human life is worth less in U.S. currency than the cost of a bullet.
Now, I know that wasn’t the intended meaning — both comments were simply distasteful jokes made in an emotional moment. However, as most jokes do, they reflected a deeper idea, and while the jokes themselves may be perceived as harmless, the idea is not: It’s that old, unhappy, unhealthy mentality that if you disagree with someone, you have the right to open your mouth and say they are worthless or you’d rather they be dead.
It’s a sad compromise, and one we all make far too often. It’s sacrificing decency for emotional gratification. I believe our words have value — enough value that we should make a habit of examining our hearts carefully before we let them loose.
The reason I’ve taken the time to write about this is I feel I should have said something in the moment — if only as a human being standing up for common decency. It could have been something as simple as, “Please think before you speak; your words matter,” although I wonder if I would have been able to articulate it that well. Sometimes, the compromise is just too easy to make.
In the end, I think it all comes down to standards. These days, it seems one can claim to be a “decent person” if they righteously stand up for the protection of unborn children, preservation of religious freedom or the right to keep and bear arms while joking that those holding different convictions should die because they’re stupid.
On the other hand, one may claim common decency in protesting Donald Trump’s vulgarity by marching about with a vulgar home-made sign. Do you see the double standard? Inconsistency can be comfortable, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
To put it simply, I think many can agree the gold standard toward which we should all strive is the ability to engage in peaceful, civil conversation with those with whom we disagree — no matter how strongly we feel about our ideals.
In my opinion, that’s decency.
One of the earliest common-sense lessons my parents taught me sums it all up: “Overcome evil with good.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.