Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The cult of self-esteem

A lot of news organizations are carrying this story of an exchange between President Obama and a Tea Party member:

President Obama came face-to-face with the Tea Party last night in Iowa, clashing with a member during and after a town hall last night.

Ryan Rhodes, a group leader in the Hawkeye State, stood up and shouted a question during a town hall, asking the president how he can call for more civility when "your vice president is calling people like me, a Tea Party member, a 'terrorist.'" [...]

After calling another person, Obama circled back to address Rhodes' question: "First of all, in fairness to this gentleman who raised a question, I absolutely agree that everybody needs to try to tone down the rhetoric.

"Now, in fairness, since I've been called a socialist who wasn't born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms because I passed a health care bill, I'm all for lowering the rhetoric." [Emphasis added--E.M.]
I realize that I may be reading a bit too much into this exchange; off-the-cuff remarks rarely hold up well to scrutiny no matter who utters them. But to me, the phrase of President Obama's which I put in bold print illustrates something that has long troubled me about Americans and our cult of self-esteem.

The president seems to be saying that the rhetoric which criticizes him for passing a health care bill (and not just any health care bill; Obamacare has thus far not fared entirely well in federal courts and may, indeed, represent a legislative attempt to confiscate some American freedoms like the freedom not to be forced to purchase insurance, etc.) is the exact same thing as rhetoric which claims that he was born outside of this country or that he is a socialist. In other words, the president's own rhetoric here seems to imply that legitimate criticisms of his policies and agenda, of his ideas, that is, is somehow no different from illegitimate or baseless criticism of him personally.

I will say again: it may simply be an unfortunate turn of an off-the-cuff phrase. But I noticed it because I've noticed similar things quite a lot from people of our generation and the generations younger than both President Obama and me: there is a strong tendency on the part of many Americans to think that saying "I think you're wrong about this, and here's why," is exactly the same thing as saying "I think you're a fuddy-duddy poopy-head and your mother dresses you funny."

Here on this blog, I've always had a fairly open comment policy. I don't mind at all civil disagreement with my ideas, even when that disagreement is strongly phrased. This means, sometimes, that the comment boxes are a turn-off to people who dislike that sort of thing, especially when a commenter seems to be running off on a tangent in order to showcase his or her general disagreement with me, with religious believers generally or with conservatives generally, and so on. Still, I think it's better to let people have their say, so long as we don't drift too far off-topic and nobody starts lobbing personal attack firebombs in the direction of nice commenters who are minding their own business. Letting people have their say tends to lead to conversation, and conversation tends to promote understanding--even if sometimes that understanding and feeling of fellowship is limited, as it will likely be, to patchy stretches of common ground.

But there are some other blogs (and I'm not naming any, because truthfully I'm not thinking of any specific blog here) where strong disagreement is considered an attack, and where telling someone you think they may be wrong about something is a hurtful jab intended to damage that person's fragile, delicate ego and glass-spiderweb of self-esteem.

If this sort of thing were limited to blogs, I suppose it wouldn't matter much. But it's not. I've experienced it in real life, too, as I'm sure some of you have: the immediate harrumphing and subject-changing that can occur the moment a conversation drifts into potentially troubled waters. Sure, there are times when it's best not to wade into controversy: times when the number of little pitchers with big ears is far greater than that of adults, perhaps, or when groups of people who already disagree radically and strongly with each other have gathered for some reason and are firmly committed to a peaceful and tranquil experience (such as a wedding, a family Thanksgiving dinner, or a cease-fire negotiation). But other times it seems as though the average American has become almost pathologically afraid of being disagreed with, as though having someone disagree with your ideas is like having someone punch you in the face and laugh at you while you're falling to the ground.

Are we really that dainty? Have we really bought into the notion that all negativity and criticism are bad, that challenging each other to defend our ideas or positions is an act of hostility, that saying "You're wrong!" is just like saying "You're a brainless twit who would have to reach up to grab hold of stupidity!" in terms of its effect on our self-esteem?

I certainly hope not. But I do think that a couple of generations of misguided educational theories have contributed toward making self-esteem a sort of false god. And like other cults that worship false gods, the cult of self-esteem is far more brittle and easily damaged than most people realize.


Diamantina da Brescia said...


I certainly was educated -- not intentionally in school, but through observing my parents' frequent arguments at home and lack of affection towards each other in public -- to be ultra-diplomatic, to say "I think this is where you might be mistaken" instead of "You're wrong!" A word could turn out to be perceived as an insult at home, even without intending it. The morality I imbibed at home was to be nice at all costs and not make other people angry. (As you know, my father is a lapsed Catholic: my mother is a non-churchgoing Methodist. Theirs was a civil marriage -- an elopement to Las Vegas -- and they are now divorced: neither has since remarried. I was baptized Catholic in infancy, but began to attend Mass when I was 10 years old, on my own.)

And in real life, I feel upset when somebody -- even a stranger -- disagrees with or criticizes me in more than the gentlest possible terms. I try not to show it, but the reaction is still there. Don't blame the schools for this, Erin -- it's the result of a deeply dysfunctional family background, as well as my history of depression and borderline personality disorder.

Do you think Obama might have absorbed some of this emotional sensitivity you observed because he was the child of divorced parents and brought up in a not particularly religious milieu? Perhaps people from happy, devout families are better able to express and tolerate disagreement. I'm not a psychologist, but I think it would make an interesting study :-)

Red Cardigan said...

You know, that's an interesting point. I wonder if that is perhaps a reason for the elevation of self-esteem--the fact that so many people don't seem to have happy home lives. It's an intriguing possibility.

Turmarion said...

There are several distinct issues here.

One, and something that isn't often enough appreciated, is that there are disagreements as to how big an issue freedoms of various sort are of themselves. None of us is free to drive a car without a license, to avoid paying taxes even if we don't like where they're going, or to do or not do many other things.

Any society has to limit freedoms for all, in some sense, in order to be able to function. In the last post, you argued against Gardasil on the grounds of its potentially being made mandatory--but many vaccinations already are, despite the fact that none are (or can be) 100% safe. This is a fair tradeoff--as you may or may not know, there is a large anti-vaccination movement which, while well-intentioned, is having a deleterious effect on public health, as you can see. In short, is it abrogating parental responsibility to "force" parents to vaccinate their children against measles? Whooping cough? Anything? The anti-vaccination movement often comes off sounding like the hysterical anti-fluoridation movement of yore. Thus, while to say that Obamacare "may, indeed, represent a legislative attempt to confiscate some American freedoms," is not necessarily unfair, there is a subtly in the rhetorical use of terms like "confiscate" that assumes a point without arguing for it.

I mean, is it "confiscating parents' rights" to require their kids to get shots? Is it "confiscating parents' rights" to have a state-mandated curriculum that teaches evolution even if Fundamentalist creationists disagree? Are background checks "confiscating the rights" of potential gun purchasers? My answer to all of these, personally, is no.

Do you see what I mean? One can make arguments either way on any of these and many more; but using hostile terms like "confiscate" assumes an answer without making the argument. It's what they used to call a "weasel word". If you are really unsure about Obamacare, say something like, "it is a legitimate issue as to whether government may require people to buy healthcare and as to whether that conflicts with asserted rights not to do so"; but if you really think it is a confiscatory power grab, then don't just say that--make the argument. Using strong rhetoric without defending it or in order to assume the conclusion is a bad strategy.

I say this in light of the tendency toward hysterical rhetoric these days on all sides of the spectrum--and yes, on the right, too--that is replacing anything even remotely approaching rational argumentation.

I think that's the other issue. I think our culture, probably in part inspired by the blogosphere, though I think there's other stuff going on, has come to see strong disagreement as a sign of bad faith or ill intent--"you disagree with me strongly so you must be evil." It has also come to see any occasion as appropriate for a take-no-prisoners approach.

Red Cardigan said...

Turmarion, I have to argue with you about the use of language.

Confiscate is a word that means the taking of something especially by the government (I checked several dictionaries, and that's the main gist of the word). If a government authority takes a person's freedom to use his or her money as he or she sees fit and forces him or her to purchase health insurance with some of that money, the authority has confiscated that freedom. Governments confiscate things all the time; they take property, money, liberty, goods, etc. If I say that the DEA confiscated an alleged drug dealer's collection of antique cars, I'm not implying that there was anything at all unjust about their having done so.

So, I reject the idea that a perfectly good word like "confiscate" is a weasel word when I am using it to mean the government taking something from the public. Nobody denies that Obamacare removes from the public the ability to avoid purchasing health care; few people before the modern age would have quibbled with the notion that people should have the right not to be told by the federal government that they must buy something, no matter how beneficial that thing might seem to be.

Rebecca in ID said...

I would think that forcing parents to vaccinate or forcing parents to allow their children to be taught evolutionary theories is definitely, obviously, an egregious confiscation of freedom. I don't have even the slightest doubt that the founding fathers would agree with me. We're frogs in water slowly coming to a boil.

Liz said...

Parents do have the right to opt out of vaccinations, although doing so may mean their children cannot attend some schools. They also have a right to opt out of having their children taught evolution as a fact, although in order to do so they'll either have to shell out money for a private school or teach them at home. With the health plan that has passed the Congress no one will have the right to opt out of health insurance. Currently the Amish are allowed to opt out of Social Security and high school, I wonder whether they have an exemption from Obama-care as well.

I have friends who've chosen not to vaccinate and I also know a lot of young parents who pick and choose which vaccinations to give. A lot of people believe that challenging an infant's immune system with a whole host of diseases at a time is unwise, even if they are otherwise not anti-vaccination. At the present time it remains a parental choice. The whole Gardasil question was really the result of a politician who simply hadn't done his homework, but had believed that the government's recommendations were gospel. There are a lot of people who are taking a wait and see approach. After all if Gardasil is effective at all, it's not against all types of agents that cause cervical cancer. Hence having had the shot may give young women a false sense of security.

I think that if we hadn't seen so many FDA approved drugs end up with major side effects and complications people would have more confidence in the protocol the government is recommending. However, when healthy young women have serious complications or even die following a Gardasil shot it would seem like parents have a right to say, "no thank you" until the vaccine can be made safer. It's simply one more in a long line of pharmaceuticals that have been rushed onto the market. It may be healthy for corporate profits, but it remains to be seen how many of them are actually healthy for the patients that get them.

Turmarion said...

If a government authority takes a person's freedom to use his or her money as he or she sees fit....

But that could be taxation in general, right? I might not want my money to go to fill-in-the-blank, but taxes do so whether I like it or not. My main objection is that you're just a hairline away from the old libertarian canard of taxation as theft.

If I say that the DEA confiscated an alleged drug dealer's collection of antique cars, I'm not implying that there was anything at all unjust about their having done so.

But people in such contexts always construe said confiscation as punitive. Do you say, on April 15, "Well, the government just confiscated my taxes for the year"? Do you see the subtle distinction?

Just for disclosure, I think the Obama plan is a mess but for different reasons than you do. I'd prefer a Canadian or European-style system (and not all such systems are single payers, btw) that would cover everyone and not be job-connected. Such countries have been shown, time and again, to have better health outcomes than we do. Such a system, if it were a single-payer (which most conservatives dislike) would not need a mandate; but if you have a free-market system, a mandate (formerly supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney) is necessary to get everyone into the pool. Anyway, I'm not particularly interested in defending Obamacare as such, but I don't have a problem with universal health care access.

@ Rebecca: Taken to the extreme, your argument amounts to saying that parents ought to be allowed to teach their children that the sun goes around the earth--and there actually are some geocentrists out there. Taken to the extreme, it also amounts to saying that parents have the right to give their children no medical treatment at all, even if it causes infectious disease to spread, even if it's bad for the child.

I don't have a problem with exemptions for religious groups such as the Amish; but you can't participate fully in a complex society if you don't play by the rules. As Liz indicates, you may not vaccinate your child, but you can't then insist on sending them to the public schools and risking spreading infection wholesale. You can homeschool your kids that evolution is a lie, but don't expect them to be able to get a degree in any scientific field or for that matter most fields, since most colleges require some biology courses as gen eds. Even tribal societies put limitations on freedoms as the price of group coherence and functionality (an Amish village, for most of us, would be more repressive of what we expect as our freedoms than anything society at large does). I'm not promoting a Big Brother model of government; just saying that we live in a dreamworld if we think that we should have unlimited range to exercise our freedoms while at the same time maintaining any kind of society at all. One can debate limits, and that's good; but sometimes the Right seems to think the idea of limits itself is bad. Well, welcome to reality--I can't think of any way around it.

Turmarion said...

I was going to post this earlier, but got side-tracked. It's a personal incident illustrating what I think is an increasingly argumentative and pugnacious attitude in society at large that seems even to recognize no appropriate limits or contexts.

A few months ago, I was at my new workplace, and a conversation was going on, and trying to get to know the co-workers, I'd joined in. A woman, call her S., had said that so-and-so's name was Spanish originally, and I'd discussed the correct pronunciation. The she said, in passing, she was surprised to find out the person's ethnicity, since they were Christian. I said, "What do you mean?"

S. replied, "Well, so-and-so was raised Catholic." I replied (managing to be very nice and calm, outwardly), "But Catholics are Christians." Instead of backing down, S. said, "Well, so-and-so belongs to a Christian church now." I grinned sweetly and said, "I'm" Catholic. S. replied, "But were you raised Catholic?" Me: "No." S.: "Well, see, that's not the same thing, as if you were raised that way," although her tone clearly meant indoctrinated that way.

At this point I grinned again, said something like, "Different strokes for different folks," and left.

Now anyone is free to view the Church as the cultic Whore of Babylon if they choose (and in the context of the conversation, tone, etc., that's exactly what S. thought), but such bigotry right in the face of someone who just told you he's Catholic himself is just beyond rude. I'm a big boy and not a delicate piece of china, but any person of even remote courtesy would have said something like, "Well, I didn't mean anything personal," or "I didn't mean it that way," or "Well, I meant I was surprised he was Protestant," or some such. I guess it's more honest to say you think Catholics aren't really Christians if that's what you think, even to the face of a Catholic co-worker; but take that view to its logical conclusion regarding religion, politics, etc., and you don't have a workplace but a battlefield.

I think perhaps this attitude is a bit of what Obama was getting at--and I think he should get at least some points for agreeing with the interlocutor that his own vice president was out of line rhetorically.

In this regard, Diamantha, I came from a similar household, and it took me a long time to learn to disagree strongly while being courteous and keeping it from being personal. I have tried to inculcate in my daughter the ability to disagree with my wife and me and to speak her mind without being mean or nasty or thinking that disagreement means we don't love or respect her.

Lots of people can't do that--I had a formerly good friend who, out of the clear blue, contacted me and after asking me what I thought about Obamacare, proceeded to tell me that he was going to break off contact with me since he thought he couldn't stay in touch with someone who supported such a horrible, evil plan (as you see above, I don't really support it, though I think it's marginally better than what we had--but that distinction was lost on him). I'd note that I hadn't spoken of politics at all with this friend for almost two years.

Anyway, if we can't recognize others as people of basically good will, even if they hold views which we may think abhorrent or appalling, I fear for our society.

Anonymous said...

I too come from a home environment with parents who suffered severe problems - one had no self-confidence in social situations (socio-phobia), had a criminal sexual compulsion (not directed at me) and the other parent has borderline personality disorder.

Believe me, I learned in a family in which self-esteem was never even a concept to walk on eggshells. Disagreement was/is tantamount to being a traitor to the BPD parent and sent the other parent into a tailspin of self-disgust.

Conversations, as such, rarely existed.

Now we have relatives who are members of weird cult-like prosperity "Christianity" (did Jesus really mean being rich meant you are in better with God???) and gatherings are again on tippy-toes. Can't say anything bad about Republicans or good about any Democrat, can't imply that we have a different view of faith, even quoting the Gospel of John about how God is love sets these people off into a rage. Vein-popping, purple faced - the whole thing.

No one ever heard of self-esteem in their upbringing

Anonymous said...

I think blaming this on "self-esteem" is a stretch. I think we are seeing is a culture of incivility and the idea that "I was just expressing my opinion and critique" is accepted as part of that incivility and lack of grace.

The full-throated world of blogging and commenting leads to that level of incivility.

Anonymous said...

"Anyway, if we can't recognize others as people of basically good will, even if they hold views which we may think abhorrent or appalling, I fear for our society. "

I am curious. At what point does a
person's beliefs mark him/her as
not a person of good will? Seems
to me that beliefs that are "abhorrent
or appalling" might give one pause
in labeling persons holding such
beliefs as persons of good will. -MET

Anonymous said...

I was anonymous at 10:45 p.m and sorry for the bad punctuation, grammar and lack of signature.

Another note that may or may not be of interest. The Father of the Self-Esteem movement, whose name is gone forever from my brain, was on the radio a number of years back. He absolutely disowned what his concept has become.

His definition of self-esteem is a belief in the value of one's own life and future that supports self-discipline to achieve a future worth living. Nothing to do with ego strokes or the narcissism that gets encouraged, however unintentionally. In particular, he stressed how much he cringes to hear children told they are unique. As he pointed out, every sandwich is unique, but so what?

But I agree that latching on to the "cult of self-esteem" for all lack of civility and respect is a stretch.

BTW, my kid has real self-esteem. The kind that made him hit the books nightly, attend every practice for his teams and bands, complete all projects and homework on time and thoroughly, stay out of trouble, get to work on time or early, work to instructions and standards, get known for his reliability and be polite and kind in all circumstances. That flavor of self esteem earned him a full ride to graduate school.

I'm all for self-esteem.


Turmarion said...

Anonymous @ 2:28: I am curious. At what point does a person's beliefs mark him/her as not a person of good will?

Fair question. A good quote from here, referencing a C. S. Lewis essay over here makes this interesting point, with emphasis added:

C. S. Lewis once wrote that “when the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle things are gone.” His point was that the time may come when the societal bonds are so ruptured that forceful confrontation will become necessary with those who, until then, had been our fellow citizens. The corollary, of course, is that we cannot in good conscience call for an application of lethal force against our neighbors until that moment arrives. There must be a marked debasement of the social compact. The Round Table must already be broken. For all but the most radical pro–lifers, such a devolution has not yet occurred. Pro–life Americans are not willing to accept the sight of abortionists, their staff, and the women who employ them lying dead in our streets, because they remain our neighbors. They are neighbors who have fallen into evil ways on the issue of abortion, but neighbors nonetheless, fellow citizens who have permitted material concerns and self–centeredness to cloud their judgment on the question of abortion.

The essay from which this is extracted is about abortion, but I think it's broadly relevant. I find abortion appalling and abhorrent, but I don't think the majority of people who are pro-choice are evil or of bad will. They may have allowed their judgment to become clouded, as the article says, but they are our neighbors for all that. If this is true of such an obviously abhorrent view, then so much the more for debates about insurance and such. Some people do hold beliefs for malign reasons, and really are of bad faith--but I think they are the exception, and I don't think the Round Table has been broken yet, to use Lewis's metaphor. We should all hope it's not, anyway, because when it is, it won't be a pretty picture.

Turmarion said...

In regard to rhetorical excess and its increasing pervasiveness, I'd direct everyone to this fascinating and documented post over at Vox Nova.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

When the Round Table is broken, I am free to say "A pox on both your houses," but I have to either work myself up to the ability to face both Galahad and Mordred in battle, and inspire a following equal to theirs, or retire to some remote fastness I can defend with whatever abilities, resources and following I have. That's not about good or evil, it is about "might makes right."

Hammurabi and King Edward I became great and wise lawgivers when they had the leisure, but first they conquered ruthlessly, including the use of torture. (Today of course we would have some issues with the laws each of them came up with. Hammurabi punished rape by having the woman concerned tied to the rapist, and both of them thrown into the river).

There are certain vaccinations that as a matter of public policy really should be mandatory... smallpox, before it was wiped out, polio, until it is... those who don't vaccinate are taking risks with the health and lives of everyone else. But that is a power to be used sparingly... I agree that there is room to doubt how early children need how many vaccines. Still, there are lines to be drawn. When a parent's "liberty" kills their child, even by withholding what would have saved them, is that morally different from the way the pro life movement views "a woman's right to choose"?

I saw a video last year of a man asking Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, where in the constitution it says congress can require him to buy health insurance. She was not well prepared to answer, so I tried to work out what I would have said.

Congress is authorized by the constitution to regulate interstate commerce. When medical care was about Doc Summers leaving his apple orchard and saddling up his horse, to ride up the road because Suzie just came to say that ma is having her baby now, that was NOT interstate commerce.

However, medical care, like so much else in our lives, very much IS interstate commerce today. That is what gives congress jurisdiction. That is why congress MUST have jurisdiction, because to the extent we depend on big bad wealthy for-profit corporations for essential of life, we need OUR government to protect our health and safety, the supply lines that supply us, etc.

I agree that the federal mandate would go down better with a few public options or a single payer plan. Basically, everyone is enrolled on a sliding scale in one of the public options, UNLESS they choose, pay for, and show proof of, some private alternative.

I would also offer that anyone who doesn't want to be enrolled could sign a waiver saying "I have chosen not to buy health insurance. If I need expensive emergency treatment or surgery that I can't afford, I give permission for any hospital to kick me to the curb and let me die."

But our society is too compassionate for that -- so, since we ARE going to take care of them, everyone must pay in. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

John E. said...

... or retire to some remote fastness I can defend with whatever abilities, resources and following I have.

You are welcome at my compound, Siarlys

John E. said...

Also, C. S. Lewis in that quote, as he does elsewhere, is creating a false n-lemma.

Turmarion said...

Also, C. S. Lewis in that quote, as he does elsewhere, is creating a false n-lemma.

That's a valid point, but my aim in quoting him was to argue that short of extreme situations it's usually better to assume one's ideological opponents (at least in day-to-day live) are not motivated by evil even if their beliefs seem to us to be evil, abhorrent, or such. Too many in the current rhetorical climate want it all to be white hats and black hats, with no allowance for gray, or they want to jump to conclusions about a person's character based on his politics or ideology.

E.g., the friend who broke off contact with me over the Affordable Health Act (as mentioned in my above post on 16 August at 9:33) did so despite having known me for over twelve years, despite the fact that I'd always treated him kindly and always tried to be a good friend to him, despite the fact that I was his only friend for much of that time and the only one from college that kept in contact with him. In short, despite all evidence to the contrary, he had to believe that any supporter (however reluctantly) of the health bill must somehow be an evil, awful person. Arguing that such a mode of thought as this is wrong was my point in quoting Lewis, since I think he's saying the same thing.

Now as to the stark all or none option after "the Round Table is broken" which he presents, I'd agree with you that it's overly simplistic. Unfortunately, there are a lot out there that will see it that way when the wrong thing hits the fan at some point. That thought is truly creepy.

Anonymous said...

I had no qualms with President Obama's rejoinder. In that context, HE had not stated the opinion. Nor, was he about to get in a tit-for-tat back and forth with a possible heckler seeming to accuse he was condoning a national opinion in his presidency about the Tea Party.

President Obama was responding in mature and intelligent manner to hearsay (the perpetrator was not in their presence) that there is a fairly high level of 'hot topics' nowadays, that set off irrational emotional responses. I don't think he was interested in an obliviating philosophical discussion with someone who might or might not be interested in the truth.

To the alleged words of the Vice President, President Obama did not restate them, agree with them publicly, nor attempt to explain his understanding of them. Nor would President Obama say anything that would be taken out of context and have it ramped up on the talk radio network.

President Obama, I think, was saying 'civility begins at home' by stating that he had undergone a lot of personal discrimination in his life, and a response to rudeness is an individual's mantle to don.

Yes, he could have said, 'Yes, Vice President Biden should not use inflammatory language', and 'our leaders have a responsibility to serve as role models', but as it goes Town Hall meetings are a relatively adult forum, and one would not expect opportunists the to elicit a few firecracker gambits for excitement.

His response was basically made in the adult conversation of a town hall meeting. Hecklers abound.

One is tempted to express some doubt about the intention of the person asking the Tea Party question in the audience.

Was that guy in the audience trying to make a point, wanting to make a statement about the public perception to his political organization which has become synonymous with offensive statement because some of its most outspoken members are running their platforms on obfuscation, BS, and emo sound-bites with a sprinkling of honest opinion, or did he want to publicly upbraid President Obama for being involved with a Vice President who was alleged to have said that?

It seems there is no shortage of barn-burners who will whip up a frenzy at a moment's notice nowadays.

Bold rudeness, bald lies, big exaggerations, and ill will beg for irritated responses by significant leadership, but President Obama took the highroad.

I recall listening to late night talk radio in the 70's of a loud vehemency much like the preponderance today, but the difference is that it is prevalent everywhere, and no one apologizes anymore.

Lately, it seems, there are not enough adults acknowledging mistaken beliefs or wrongs until a full '60 Minutes' inquiry is pursued. And, even then, it's like pulling hen's teeth unless the perpetrator can acknowledge their 'guilt'.

Also, apologies, and begging pardon for mistakes are considered a sign of weakness in our culture today. And, often legal justice is considered equivalent to moral justice.

Another issue, is it only the maligned verbally abused members of our society that are sensitive to this disregard for others? I, too, witnessed highly dysfunctional interchanges between my parents, and brought my lack of self-esteem (or self-protection) to a marriage which subsequently lost its balance of equanimity. Although we've just ignored our 32nd anniversary.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

One rare but hopeful sign in jurisprudence is that a few states have made tentative moves to forbid the use of apologies as evidence of guilt. That doesn't mean an apology gets you off the hook, other evidence can be presented, but when an apology is automatically presentable as a confession, it tends to chill the desire to offer an apology.

I too thought President Obama gave a mature, dignified, honest response to a trio of hecklers, but he could have toned down the "I'm a victim too" aspect of the response. It's perfectly true, he has received a lot of undeserved abuse, along with legitimate criticism, but it weakens the strength of his response to mention it.

The DNC seems all too addicted to campaigning with a faux Paul Revere cry of "the right wing extremists are coming," which is neither particularly important, nor likely to resonate with voters. Someone needs to put some new proposals on the table, not fight to vindicate whatever they were doing before the last time they lost their majority.