Four weeks remain in the second decade of this new Millennium. So far, we have survived the Y2K crisis, the acid rain crisis, the dot com crisis, multiple climate change crises, and the opioid crisis. We have even survived the incessant, insulting, hyperbolic headlines proclaiming them. Some say we have all but completely abandoned the moral and social norms that restrained the darker instincts of human behavior throughout the preceding millennia. But have we?

A lot has changed in these last 20 years, and nothing changed more dramatically than the way we get information and communicate with each other. The lie that once traveled around the world while the truth was lacing its boots now does so before the truth even thinks of its boots. Social media has shortened the timeline from hours to microseconds. But because lies spread faster and wider now does not mean more people are liars. It has also been said that the vilest writer will have readers and the greatest liar will have believers. But our pervasive fake news and hateful rhetoric does not mean people are more gullible or more vile than ever before. The vile and dishonest just have the means to spread their toxic intellectual waste faster and maybe further.

We might do well to remember, this holiday season, those long past decades when we were children. When family gathered, we listened. When we spoke, it was with respect and we did not interrupt others. Most of us also had an Aunt Mildred or Uncle Joe who did none of that and dominated the conversation both while present and after they mercifully left. After they were gone, we might be excused from the adult conversations that followed, but we still overheard and learned that a thunderous, adamant delivery produced neither agreement nor respect.

We would all do well to recall those unintended results. What was once just a private thought can now be posted in an instant. Anger, frustration, arrogance, and ignorance are not new but the opportunity for reflection between thoughtless composition and delivery is gone. Thomas Swift observed that a falsehood will fly while the truth limps and once the people have been deceived, it’s too late for the truth. The lie has had its effect. That is a cynical view of people, but the behavior of individuals and institutions today surely confirms that same cynicism informs much of what the media and individuals publish and broadcast. We must become more discerning consumers and more restrained, reflective speakers. Truth does not need to be shouted, seasoned with insults, or delivered with abuse. Name-calling and insults are the last resort of those who’ve failed on substance. We can be better.

The coming season will, hopefully, be a time of peaceful reflection and an opportunity, if we take it, for introspection while spending a lot less time with our devices and more time with people we know, like, love, respect, and trust. For the lucky ones, whose families are not scattered across the country or the globe, there will be reunions. For those lucky enough to be part of a church community or a secular service community there will be charitable works, fellowship, and conversations about purpose, enduring values, and for which we should be thankful. For others, it can be a time to join such a community and share the experience of making a positive difference for someone less fortunate. In these things, we can, if we choose, focus less on ourselves and more on others, not to change them but to change ourselves into better people, better friends, and better neighbors by serving others’ needs. Perhaps we might once again learn that changing ourselves to be more what we would wish to be is easier and more satisfying than seeking to change others to what we would have them be.

Another View is written on a rotating basis by a member of a group of conservative Midcoast citizens that meet to discuss issues they think are of public interest. 

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