Sunday, January 15, 2017


A Church of the Open Road
call for civility

Check out this clock face.  It is round with twelve at the top and six at the bottom and all the other hour designations properly marked numerically around the edge. 

The clock face is the image upon which we might graphically represent and then examine how others may view us rightly or wrongly – or how we may view others, again, rightly or wrongly – based upon the tenor of our discussions and debates.

But before we do…

My first teaching assignment was in a remote and impoverished school far, far away from any major city, town, interstate or even state highway.  I would be there as a substitute for about four weeks.  During that time, I received an education the likes of which one doesn’t receive in Teacher College. 

The community was pretty evenly divided between two groups. One was then called hippies and perceived as system-draining welfare leeches of questionable morals who’d never held a job, probably raised a then-illegal cash crop and generally bummed off the system.  Kids came to school poorly clothed and poorly fed, late and often not at all.

The other was the chronically unemployed worker, many of whom claimed to be both God-fearing and disabled.  They drove battered vehicles with questionable emissions and brakes, kept the local grocery afloat through the purchase of beer, cigarettes and diesel fuel.  Kids came to school poorly clothed and poorly fed, late and often not at all.

Little evidence existed to suggest to me that members of either group actually worked for the money off of which they lived.

The biggest complaint I heard from parents of either group had little to do with my lousy, inexperienced teaching capability and a lot to do with “makin’ sure mah boy don’t sit anywheres near that [fill in the blank.]  Seemed to me that a member of one group was always at the throat of a member of the other.

In my young mind, both factions seemed fanatical to a new-to-me extreme.  I was only 23 at the time – so sue me – but both groups appeared to be about the same in their crazy disdain for the other.

Now, thinking about our graphic…

Image I:  Our clock face shows a single hand pointing directly at 12:00.  12:00 represents normal – not to far too the left, not too far to the right politically, socially, economically, spiritually, and neighborly.  Most everyone imagines himself or herself at 12:00.  When we get to the end of this paper, let’s agree to first concentrate on how we view others.  We can be far more objective about others than ourselves because, well, we’re right where we want to be.  12:00 o’clock.  Perfect.

Image II:  Viewing our clock face, that single hand is now pointing directly at 6:00.  Straight down.  That’s where all the crazy people are.

At this point you should be thinking: Huh?

Image III:  Bear with me and see that the clock face has a vertical line running from 12:00 to 6:00.  1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 and 5:00 rest on the right hand side of the line.  11:00, 10:00, 9:00, 8:00, 7:00 rest on the left hand side.  This bisected clock face represents folks’ political, social, economic, spiritual and neighborliness if we labeled the 1:00 to 5:00 side conservative and the 11:00 to 7:00 side liberal. 

For the purposes of this little task, let’s examine the terms conservative and liberal and view examples of beliefs folks within those categories might espouse.

Student News Daily offers these ideas contrasting the two groups:

·      Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

·      Liberals believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights. Believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.             

Source: Student News Daily © 2005, 2010.
You are invited to check out the post on their website 
for more specifics.

These descriptions aren’t perfect and the two categories “conservative” and “liberal” probably don’t cover absolutely all nuances or points of view.  But you’ve invested about five minutes in this exercise all ready, so keep playing along, okay?

Image IV:  Now the clock face has two horizontal lines.  One crosses the clock face running through 10:00 and 2:00 (where you should place your hands on the steering wheel when driving – but that’s a bird walk).  The other crosses the clock face running through 8:00 and 4:00. 

The clock face has been divided into three bands – one centered on 12:00, one centered across 9:00 to 3:00, and one centered on 6:00.  Each of the three bands represents different degrees of behaviors practiced when discussing or debating an issue, a concern, or something hot in the news.

In the 12:00 band, people hold opposing views about government, economics, neighbors and families.  It’s a Giants / Dodgers or Yankees / Red Sox kind of thing where you may root for one team or the other, but everybody likes to see a good game.  People discuss their similarities and differences agreeing sometimes and agreeing to disagree at other times.  When the game is over or plebiscite results are tallied, folks support the outcome, even if the other guy won, perhaps resolving to pitch a better game or conduct a better campaign next time around.  As citizens, they stand behind the new leader in a manner similar to how passengers on a jet plane get behind the pilot of the airliner knowing that if the plane crashes the results are not good for anybody.

In the 9:00 to 3:00 band, discussion is more heated.  Resolution of differences is more difficult.  Listening begins to take a back seat to speaking often because folks are planning their next rejoinder prior to hearing all of their opponent’s argument.  The mood is less cordial, and folks may leave unhappy with the discussion mulling the points they’ll be sure to make next time around.

The 6:00 band is typified by acrimony, and harsh words. While persons residing in the 12:00 band at 1:00 or 11:00 might engage with one another, in the 6:00 band, those at 7:00 and 5:00 mostly associate only with other 7:00ers or 5:00ers.  As in war, the opponent is often de-humanized – make sure mah boy don’t sit anywheres near that [fill in the blank.] Brothers don’t speak.  Adult kids lose respect for those who brung ‘em up.  Combatants sunshine only the parts of the story that support their conclusion or advance their narrative. To this end, creation of facts is acceptable and commonplace.  Name-calling is considered fair play. Libtard, asshat, and many other new defamations crop up as defense when positions are indefensible.  Talking heads who make stuff up point fingers across the divide claiming the other guys make stuff up.  Legislatively, one side stonewalls the other until they gain power then cries foul when the other side threatens to stonewall them. Things are said – well, written on social media sites – that if they were spoken in a barroom might send one or more participants to the hospital or worse.  Civility is not even a distant memory and agreement is rarely, if ever, reached.  And the airline passenger in me wonders: Is anybody out there concerned about whether the plane makes it safely to the airport?

In summary, conservative thought resides on one side of our clock face graphic, liberal on the other, and behaviors evolve (or devolve) as we descend through the bands from 12:00 to 6:00. 

Back to that remote elementary school…

For over forty years now, the dope smokin’ hippies and the disabled rednecks have both been firmly ensconced at or very near 6:00 on my imaginary clock face.  Crazy.  Bat-shit crazy, some might say nowadays.  Both, in my opinion, arrived at the same place but both took opposing routes to get there.  At least that’s the view of this once-23-year-old.  Four decades later I am beginning to wonder: Was the polarized circumstance of that rustic elementary school a harbinger of what we’re all witnessing on a much larger – and more consequential – scale today?

Now long out of the classroom and more recently out of the field, the teacher in me cannot resist posing a few questions at the end of this little exposition.  So here goes: 

·      From your position on the outside looking in, where do you find our important national discussions / debates today?  Does our collective position on the clock face need to change?  If so, how is that change accomplished?

·      Where might others view your position on the clock face?  Is that where you really want to be?

·      Finally, if you could change others’ perception of your place on the clock face by changing your behaviors, interactions and contributions, would that change contribute to healthier discussions and debates…

… and, over time, a more civil, healthier and stronger US?

Perhaps sadly, the teacher in me is also tempted to ask: “Bueller?  Bueller?”

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. We have collectively developed a my team vs your team mentality. When our leadership won't even try to talk to each other constructively to try and achieve pragmatic plans to solve real problems, and instead make up ideological distractions (for example, trans persons in bathrooms), where do the rest of us turn? "Killery" on one side, "Drumph" on the other. And the polarization is encouraged, emotionalized. I'm personally at a loss. I'm part of the problem, too, I suppose. I have values, ethics, ideals. There are some lines I just can't make myself cross.

    1. I wonder whether the reality of polarization is a chicken and egg sorta thing. Did the polarization of our leaders lead to our polarization as a citizenry, or did our polarized citizenry give us polarized leaders?

  2. Nicely done. If only we could coalesce around the civility and quality (and sincerity/honesty) of discourse- a "process" thing, and your vertical axis - and not so much around the content variation (your horizontal axis).