April 11, 2007

KINDNESS COUNTS

By Senator Mike Crapo

Many have heard about the disparaging remarks made recently by a national talk radio host about a university women's basketball team. From the media to Capitol Hill to work and school, public and private discourse has steadily deteriorated. What was once considered uncouth, impolite or unspeakable has become disturbingly commonplace in words we use to talk to, or about, others.We need only look as far as our children to see this. According to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), 43 percent of teens were cyberbullying victims last year. Cyberbullying is using the Internet, cell phones, video game systems or other electronic communication devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass someone. The NCPC also found that almost 80 percent of teens said they either didn't have parental rules about Internet use or found ways around those rules. We must protect our children against victimization, electronic or otherwise; it's also our job to set the tone for appropriate discourse. Children learn what they live, and they don't have to look far for inappropriate discourse. Standing Rules of the Senate state that "No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." The House has similar rules. References to personal conduct and motivations of other Members are strictly prohibited in floor debate as is the use of personally offensive words. For example, in the House, it's okay to call an amendment "deceptive" or "hypocritical;" however, a Member cannot use those terms to describe another Member. Yet, there are repeated instances of Members requesting to "take down the words" or strike offending verbiage from the Congressional Record. In an era of hypercritical, sound-bite-friendly political debate, values of comity, statesmanship and decorum have become obscured behind posturing and bellicose grandstanding. Most organizations, including Congress, reflect norms of society. It's in Hollywood: The verbal battle between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump made the news recently. It's in politics: Members of both parties mince fewer and fewer words when it comes to outright and outrageous verbal attacksâ??Congressional campaigns last year were more bitter and disingenuous than ever before. It's in our homes, businesses and schools: How often do we hear people in these settings using disrespectful and even hateful words and sentiments? One of the most compelling lessons I learned from my mother was the simple directive: Be kind. It's time we elevated our collective level of discourse to something more respectful and considerate. When another driver cuts us off, perhaps we pause before letting fly with insults and vitriolic lectures. When the clerk at the checkout counter takes longer than we think they should to help the person in front of us, perhaps instead of fuming, we might consider what their day might have been like. When our boss or employee makes a mistake, maybe we first consider possible reasons behind their actions rather than focus on how it's ruined our own day. The old adage about walking a mile in someone else's shoes is very important to remember. It's tempting to let our tempers loose; but, the damage done often can be far greater than we could have imagined. Words can be weapons. In an instant, we have the verbal power to build up or destroy a human being, and the same can be done to us. For the sake of our children and society, it's time to consider the way we speak to and about others and remember a mother's words: "Above all else, be kind." WORD COUNT: 600