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When Civility Really Means Silence

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A video of a woman angrily confronting Florida Governor Rick Scott in a coffee shop has been ricocheting across the internet. The quick and potent clip has drawn cheers as a courageous act of confrontation and criticism as a crass example of incivility.

But what is really meant by civility in this circumstance?

Imagine someone has attacked you and pinned you to the ground with their knee against your neck. As you cry out in pain for them to stop, it would be incomprehensible to you if a bystander asked you to lower your voice and stop shouting. You'd wonder why that person was not helping you. If they said "I would have helped but you are being so loud and you used profanity", your mind would be boggled by the misplaced outrage.

When the knee is metaphorical but the pain is real, is it any more appropriate to chastise the injured for howling in pain, profanely or otherwise, at the responsible party?

I don't generally yell at people or hurl profanity at them because I have other tools at my disposal that I have found to be more effective. But if the only thing available to me to change what is intolerable was to disrupt and call out, I would do it every single day with every breath available.

Some have suggested that the video of the woman in Gainesville chastizing Gov Scott went viral because she used profanity. I don't think so. I think it struck a chord because, unlike all the focus-grouped messaging from disciplined talking-heads on the non-stop news cycle, this felt real and raw.

She hadn't stopped at a political rally to shut down the candidate. She wasn't a congressman blurting out "You lie" during the State of the Union. She was someone at a coffee shop who was unexpectedly face-to-face with a politician who has mastered hiding in a fortress. A governor so unwilling to engage authentically or answer questions or communicate in something other than a sound bite that Morning Joe basically threw him off the air.

I lament that we live in a world that exalts entrenched opinion over reason and facts, that rewards bullying over empathy. So I understand the discomfort expressed by a few of my friends who see her outburst as further evidence that the last threads holding our democracy together are being pulled apart from the left and the right.

But that analysis avoids any discussion of who holds power. These are not equal sides in a debate. The governor's agenda has been uncivil and profane. His actions have cost lives.

Our children die as they fall through the shredded remains of our social safety net. The blocking of Medicaid expansion leaves poor people without health care. The words "Climate change" are banned but the tides rise nonetheless. Fish kills spread as pollution destroys our natural resources. Our state's infrastructure crumbles around us. A multi-year backlog of rape kits goes untested due to lack of funds but the costly attack on Planned Parenthood moves like lightening.

What would you have said or done had Gov Scott walked into your coffee shop that morning?
Most of us would have said nothing. Taken a picture and posted something (probably snarky) to Facebook.

But is that silence truly civility? Or is it fear, or apathy or, even worse, complicity?
Feel free to discuss, civilly or otherwise.