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June 26, 2018

Here's one call for civility that we should all try to honor

Protest them at work and online, but taking the battle to their front door is wrong

In these uncivil times, calls for civility come off as naïvely disingenuous at best and as concerted efforts to project blame unto politically minded foes to avert responsibility at worst.

What I’m not here to do is debate whether a Virginia restaurant was right or wrong to boot Sarah Huckabee Sanders and family from its premises without serving them dinner beyond a cheese plate.

Or whether it was very nice of Democratic Socialists of America protesters to chase Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen from a Mexican restaurant a few days earlier.

Or if it was wise of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters to call for pushback against Trump Administration officials in public, what with it likely energizing the very base against whom she’s pushing.

To me, all three acts are defensible, and even warranted to varying degrees. 

Civility in the face of obnoxious incivility, oozing from the political top down, equals surrender and invites inevitable defeat. Lines must be cemented when families remain torn apart by a rash policy decision created under the guise of border security, and when hateful ignorance continues to spread like zoysia grass.

To others, all three prove “the other side” is anti-American, has lost its collective mind, and serve as evidence that we’re careening toward – if not already swallowed whole by – a societal fabric-fracturing conflict.

Never those twains shall meet. Debate is a fruitless exercise when one side claims the other is becoming an army of James Hodgkinsons while pretending its James Alex Fields Jr. incitement doesn’t exist.

Still, there’s a particularly nagging aspect to this whole mess, one that’s truly emblematic of a dangerously slippery slope.

Calling people out in public – i.e. a restaurant, sporting event, etc. – is a justifiable form of protest.

Taking that philosophical and moral battle to their front stoop, however, is closer to wrong than right.

Sure, one could argue that that’s substantially more respectful than what’s going on with family separation at the border. And sure, if that’s your take, you have a valid point.

Through a do-unto-others lens, though, it’s over the top.

This form of protest came to Philadelphia last summer in the form of Black Lives Matter activists headed to Northeast Philly to protest outside the home of a police officer who had fatally shot 30-year-old David Jones in the back.

The group’s message was, is, and will always be of life-and-death importance.

Still, state Rep. Martina White had a valid complaint when she spoke of threats of “endless occupation of that neighborhood until their demands are met.”

I thought of those words when I saw protesters flock to Nielsen’s home last week, as well. Like with BLM in Northeast Philly, theirs was an important message, and one about which silence beckons complicity.

Still, the front-door setting felt excessive.

This – more than any other path – is where things can reach that place of no return, especially in the age of angry social media-fueled mob retribution.

No, our jobs have nowhere near the same level of impact of the officials getting protested. Still, you don’t want anybody outside your door screaming about their beefs with something you did at work any more than I want my family dealing with people out front of our house screaming about a column with which they disagree.

If there is any shared humanity wrapped up in this pre-woven tangled web, it’s that. And, it’s a line that should be respected.

Protest them at work (or at their public appearances).

Protest them in public, whether they're alone or not (and the sidewalk outside their home or apartment doesn't count).

Protest them online (but do you really need to jam up small businesses with bad Yelp reviews or target similarly named businesses that have nothing to do with the issue?).

But leave their spouses, children and neighbors out of it – even if their practices do just the opposite. Doing so doesn't add anything to the opposition message; in fact, it detracts from it.

Yes, the stakes are higher today than any time most of us on either side can remember, but this sort of good-faith concession would plant a flag firmly atop Mt. Moral High Ground.