The current national and global political shakeup has awoken pride and pain, sensitivities and shame. We have seen protests on our screens and in streets that look just like ours. Many of us have taken to social media to write and read challenging and sometimes dangerous words to neighbors and strangers alike, jumping at any opportunity to tie them to our terms of ridicule – Nazi, snowflake, fascist, communist, deplorable, animal – words that successfully divide but rarely succeed in communicating anything meaningful.
In towns and cities across the South, we see people in the streets, handing out a smile, a nod or a glance to everyone who passes by, regardless of status, color, or wing – at least that’s what most of us were raised to do.
My so far limited time in Lebanon has allowed me to meet and witness the interactions of many people, some who have visions of the future that don’t quite align with each other.
What I have yet to see are any major disputes, yelling matches or name-calling. I hope we are better than this, but my experiences online and in real life don’t give me much hope of completely avoiding it. But it’s up to each and every one of us to work to curb the noise that gets in the way of all of our goals.
I have watched candidates for office in Wilson County face off in forums or talk at public events, always ending things with a handshake and a smile, always leaving room for humanity to shine through, because after the elections are over, we are all still neighbors.
In the past two years I have covered the mounting political and social unrest throughout the Southeast in towns similar to Lebanon, where I have seen people yell in each other’s faces, been between groups throwing punches and swinging clubs and had guns pointed at me in the midst of the chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia.
With the approaching local and national elections, passions are sure to louden and tempers are certain to rise, but the examples of civility I’ve seen in Wilson County bring hope to me that we as a people are able to face every challenge of the future.
Every community must remember the responsibility and chance of succeeding as a group lies in our ability to listen and accept each other as individuals. To not let “likes,” “retweets” and groupthink control our destinies, but to harness the tools of the 21st century to make our communities stronger and better. Because regardless of whether you feel like a blue dot in a red state or a red dot in a blue state, you are a person who, in times of need, can help out your neighbor and at some point may need to take a helping hand yourself.
Civility, like most everything in this world, must be practiced every second of the day – a struggle within ourselves to cage the instinct to bite and to extend our hands, open our minds and live through our hearts.
Matt Masters is a staff writer for The Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @wilsonnewsroom.