I was born in 1968, and to be truthful I don’t really remember much before 1972. The first president I can remember seeing on television is Gerald Ford, and the lowest price for gasoline I can remember is 52 cents a gallon. There is a lot of history that came before me, and there will be a lot of history made after I have left this world.
The other night on the Emmy Awards, Don Cheadle recalled the events of 50 years ago and the role that television played in bringing those events to the world. The three events mentioned were the march on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
It really struck me while watching this tribute, and the bits of news footage they showed, how different things would probably be now. Specifically, I am talking about the death of John Kennedy. As I said earlier I hadn’t yet been born when he was killed…I can only speculate as to how a majority of people reacted.
They showed a clip of Walter Cronkite getting emotional as he announced JFK’s death. They showed the familiar footage of John, Jr. saluting his dad’s casket as it passed by. It seems that the nation mourned. Maybe that wasn’t the case – but that’s how I’ve been taught to remember it. It seems that even those folks who didn’t vote for Kennedy, or those who disagreed with his policies mourned his loss, grieved for his family, and wept for the nation. I somehow doubt that would be the case today should such a tragedy occur.
Over the course of the last fifty years, something has happened to the sense of civility and respect that ‘I think’ this country used to have. It would be easy to blame it on Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of other social media outlets…but to do so would be rather ironic given the fact that I am writing this on a blog. A couple of weeks ago the first Miss America of Indian-American descent was crowned and cyberspace was flooded with racial slurs and religious epithets. Should something happen to our President – something tells me that rather than mourn the loss of a human being there would be plenty of folks who would take to the internet to express their joy and relief. The same would likely have been true during the previous administration as well.
What has happened to transform the right of the freedom of speech into the right to disrespect others because of fundamental disagreements of ideology, policy, religion, or skin tone? We enjoy the freedom of speech in this country, but I do not believe that includes the right to tell others they are ‘less than’ when we disagree with them. Just because we have the freedom to say what we want, it doesn’t mean that we are required to share our opinion at every turn – especially when it is disrespectful, degrading, and ugly.
I know – this is all very easy for me to say (or write) as I sit comfortably behind my keyboard. Yet somehow the words of my parents come to mind…If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.