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Can’t we all just get along?

03Roseanne barrRodney King’s plaintive words echoing across the decades are more on point than ever in the wake of our most recent national shouting match that leaves everyone sullied.

First, comedian Roseanne Barr referred to two educated, professional African-American women who served key roles in the Obama administration as “apes.” Within hours, another comedian, Samantha Bee, called the daughter of our current president a word that cannot be printed in a community publication, if anywhere.

How on God’s green earth did we get to this low point?

Years ago, when I was an adolescent, I – like most young people just beginning to feel their oats – tried out a few forbidden words, including some with meanings I did not fully comprehend. At  some point in my linguistic rebellion, my mother got wind of it. A grammarian, a lover of the English language and a proper Southern mother, she was appalled and, as we say in the South, “was having none of that.”

She and I had a sit-down on the topic of being kind and respectful to others and using the beautiful flexibility and versatility of the English language both properly and with care. I came away from our conversation understanding something I had not considered before … that unkind, uncivil, and “dirty” language reflects more on the speaker than it does on the intended target.

Name-calling is cheap and easy, revealing a mind that either does not know or is too lazy to search for a precise and insightful word or phrase that actually means something. Referring to others as “apes” or with a four-letter expletive is not creative. It reveals minds too challenged or too lazy or both to come up not with scattershot but with words that have express meaning.

04samantha beeBarr and Bee should be embarrassed not only for what they said about others but also by the sheer mediocrity of their choice of words.

Clearly, our nation is as divided politically, geographically and educationally as we have ever been during my adult lifetime. I would have a difficult time scanning my circle of family, friends and acquaintances without being aware of which side they take. In other words, no one is neutral. There are next to no true “independents.” Virtually all Americans are in one camp or another. We agree with Barr or we agree with Bee, though we might not have used their cheap words, and no end to our current vitriol is in sight.

Whatever else they may be, Barr and Bee symbolize two deeply disturbing aspects of American culture in 2018.

An alarming percentage of us no longer value civility in our everyday lives or in other people. Courtesy matters less and less, as a trip down any roadway in the country quickly demonstrates with fist-shakers and fingerwaggers abounding. We barely notice profanity in person or in various media. Instead of shocking us as it did a generation ago, it has become the wallpaper of daily living. Barr’s and Bee’s language is so common that this column – a week or so after their utterances – may well be the last you hear about either of them.

We also value language less. Finding and using the words that match what we want to express seems too hard for many of us, so we take the easy route – simple and overused words that have no clear meaning and “dirty” words so overused they have little meaning at all.

In my dreams, we would all take Rodney King’s heartfelt admonishment, “Can’t we all just get along?” to heart. We can agree to disagree as we obviously do, but we do not have to speak like Barr and Bee.

We could all learn from Winston Churchill as well. Churchill did not call names, but he was a world champion at the clever and targeted zinger. When Harry Truman remarked that Churchill’s replacement as prime minister “seems like a modest sort of fellow,” Churchill shot back, “He’s got a lot to be modest about.”

That puts all expletives in their proper uncreative and below average place.

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The freedom to speak

02speakAs home to Fort Bragg and the 82nd Airborne Division, Fayetteville is nestled closer to thehearts of our Founding Fathers than most of America for one reason – the fine service members here who protect and defend our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They ensure that we can vote, we can dissent, we can speak our minds – even when maybe we shouldn’t.

Yet we do.

Just this past year, writers in Up & Coming Weekly made their voices heard regarding immigration, kneeling during the national anthem, and more recently, local politics in both Hope Mills and Fayetteville. We received pushback on all of it. And we were happy to read and print those responses, even when we didn’t agree.

Disagreements and pettiness happen daily on a national level with presidential tweets that make headlines and talking heads and celebrities who use their positions as a platform to further their political or personal agendas. Two recent cases that come to mind are Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee. ABC canceled Barr’s TV show for inappropriate remarks she made about President Obama’s former democratic senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett. Meanwhile, on her show “Full Frontal,” Samantha Bee verbally assaulted President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka (a Republican staffer), by referring to her as a “feckless C**t.”

Did TBS’ executives admonish Bee’s behavior? Did they cancel her comedy show? They did not. Imagine the national outrage if Bee said that about Michelle Obama, or worse, her daughters Malia and Sasha.

Bee’s show was videotaped. This meant that TBS had the opportunity to edit out the offensive insult before it aired nationally. Those with the authority to make that decision chose not to.

Even if the performance was a live broadcast, a standard 10-second broadcasting delay allows for bleeping out vulgarities.

By their actions, these two companies made bold statements about where they stand. Undoubtedly, many agree with them. Others do not. But no one went to jail, mysteriously disappeared or lost their job. Because this is still America. That’s part of the glory of our country. We can speak our minds without fear of retribution from our government and with the expectation of being heard.

As part of this military community, we have lost far too many service members through the years because they answered the call to serve and were sent to handle America’s business in faraway places on our behalf. With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, and on the heels of heartfelt ceremonies where we honored our friends for their sacrifice and quietly vowed to look after their widows and orphans, the name-calling and hate couldn’t feel more misguided or counterproductive.

We are lucky to be Americans, and we should definitely use our First Amendment right to voice our opinions, to disagree, to be true to ourselves. When passions run high, it is easy to forget the cost of our freedom. And that comes with consequences – for people and organizations. We both thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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Carolina exceptionalism and school shootings

06 exceptionalismAs the father of two young boys, one already in kindergarten, I can’t help but feel helpless seeing American school kids murdered in their classrooms on a monthly basis. “Thoughts and prayers” are running thin.

Columbine happened when I was in high school. I remember discussing it with my English class. Most of us wrote it off by arguing that the kids responsible were “just crazy.” Colorado was too far away, and it never really registered. We went on being high school kids.

Flash forward 20 years: I’m a dad now, and I’m at a PTA event in the auditorium of my old elementary school where I was a turtle in the Christmas play. The speaker interrupts bingo night to solicit donations to construct a solid wooden fence around the playground to “protect the perimeter” of the school.

What happened? No, seriously, what happened?

It used to be that there was a mass shooting and it was in the news for a few days, but it was soon forgotten and we all went about our lives. It could happen here, but it wasn’t a real threat, just a random freak event like a plane crash. We didn’t worry about “protecting our perimeter” like we were in a war movie.

Times have changed. We’re averaging one school shooting per week in 2018. A danger that once seemed random is now making an appearance at bingo night where it follows you home and sets up shop in the back of your mind where you store your catalog of fatherly fears. When you blog about it two months later, you’re still wondering if it could be your kid.

It’s not going anywhere. After all, we’re America.We’re different. We’re exceptional.

It’s a self-evident truth that more guns equal more gun deaths. Take basic math, logic, the nature of human conflict, add a dash of gunpowder, and you get the following:

Assault weapons kill people with amazing speed and efficiency, so it would make sense to try to keep these weapons out of the hands of minors, criminals, crazy people, etc. But we’re North Carolina, and we’re exceptionally exceptional, so there is absolutely nothing our right-wing legislators are going to do to curb access to assault weapons. Nothing. These men bash their peers in primaries if they get a B+ rating from the National Rifle Association.

But have no fear. Our leaders are on an innovative mission this spring to create new ways to save our kids without infringing on your (or their) right to bear assault weapons. Here’s a list from Longleaf Politics of school safety bills pending in the legislature:

• House Bill 933 lets North Carolina give school psychologist licenses to people who hold a national professional credential valid in 32 other states.

• House Bill 932 requires school districts to set up an anonymous tip line to help identify threats.

• House Bill 934 directs school districts to set up threat assessment teams and figure out how they’re going to respond to students who could cause harm to their school.

• House Bill 937 sets training standards for school resource officers.

• House Bill 938 gets charter schools to set up risk management plans, including making sure law enforcement knows the layout of school buildings.

• House Bill 939 will set up a framework for school districts to evaluate how safe their facilities are.

• House Bill 940 directs school districts to report out by Sept. 15 how many school resource officers they have and at what levels.

• House bill 941 allots $1.8 million to place school resource officers in more elementary and middle schools.

Do you feel better now? I don’t, and I’m not trying to be negative or sarcastic. It’s as if we’re conceding that these shootings are a new way of life, and we’re just trying to find a way to beat the shooters to the punch. If only we had more psychologists, more heroes to step in front of the bullets, or more wooden fences, we could stop them.

While all these bills are noble, they ignore the shiny black elephant in the room. The ignorance is intentional, just ask the Speaker of the House. Lawmakers are reviewing ways to increase school safety. But those efforts are expected to stop short of gun restrictions.

“Folks want to try to drag the gun debate into it, ”Republican House Speaker Tim Moore told a TV interviewer last week. “Look, that’s a discussion for another time.”

I guess he’s talking about me.

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