Letters to the editor for the weekly print edition of April 2, 2012: One reader argues that the call for more 'charm' as a remedy for incivility is misguided, as charm can be mistaken for superficiality. Another reader faults partisan media programming for preventing Americans from disagreeing agreeably. A third reader 'has no quarrel with gun rights,' just with 'gun wrongs.'
In his March 5 Upfront column, "Can debate get heated with no loss of cool?," Clay Collins cited Monocle's idea that "charm" might begin to reclaim ground for civility in "international politics and business," and considers the idea promising. I wonder.
The language of assault and conquer certainly dominates today. Like a series of body punches, it may produce submission or retaliation, but probably not assuagement or compromise. By appealing to the lowest emotional denominators, uncivil speech hardens any process it is part of even when, in its raw candor, it hits on the truth. It can make unpalatable the very truth it contains.
Charm sounds appealing, but might it be just the other end of the decorum spectrum? It has its limitations and drawbacks, too. Charm is so rare now in public speech that the majority of Americans might mistake it for superficiality, affectation, or even ironic cynicism, and laugh it off.
Americans give short shrift to elegance and wit; nowadays we're accustomed to the rough and sarcastic, even when it's vulgar. If charm ruled public discourse, I worry that truth might become confused with stylistic mannerisms and incite even more scorn.
Incivility and charm are extremes. In my view, we would be best served by a plain speech that is modest and respectful, yet emphatic and candid.
The March 5 cover story, "The civility gap," examines the lack of common courtesy among Americans.