A lot of folks don't realize this, but one of the demands of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in seeking to desegregate the City of Montgomery's busses was:
Better treatment and more courteous actions
on the part of Montgomery's bus drivers: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/...
After more than a hundred years of racism being used both as a political weapon and as a means of economically controlling a segment of the American population, after lynchings and countless acts of violence were visited upon African Americans living in the post-Reconstruction South, when the time came for direct action to break the strangle hold of Jim Crow one of the first demands civil rights workers made was for better treatment, and more courteous actions.
That simple request reverberates today as we try to honor the victims of Saturday's massacre in Arizona.
What does it mean to treat someone better and act more courteously toward them? We all know what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean "targeting" them politically by putting gun sites on a map. It doesn't mean dialing up the political rhetoric and then publishing their home address in the hopes that people will "go and talk to them". It doesn't mean engaging in racist or sexist or homophobic slurs.
But what does it mean?
For me, it means in the middle of a political debate tempering my language in such a way that I never close the door so hard that I can't come to an agreement with someone in the future. It means calling out the bad and praising the good as I see it with each public figure, and being open to the possibility that someone with whom I might normally disagree might actually be right or have valid points to make on a number of different topics.
It means taking a breath before responding to someone in a comment thread and beginning my questioning of their position with the words: I respectfully disagree.
Not everyone is going to have the same working definition of courtesy and respect as I do, and that's okay. Not everyone is even going to agree that courtesy is needed right now, and some folks are probably going to make the argument that you can't be courteous with someone who isn't courteous to you in return. That's an understandable emotional response when one feels disrespected or attacked.
But, if we want to change our country for the better, we need to start at home and change the small things that we can. If everyone here starts reflecting on how our words may be heard by others, if we attempt to be wise even while cracking wise, we might be able to infect other people we come into contact with and infuse them with the virus of respect.
Josh Marshall on Countdown last Saturday compared the vitriolic discourse in politics to a contagion that affects all of us, but that affects the weakest among us the most. I think we need to counter that contagion with one of our own, one built on love and respect and an understanding of our shared humanity.
Or as Dr. King put it: