LITCHFIELD — Author George Goens could not have chosen a more appropriate time to release his book, “Civility Lost: The Media, Politics and Education,” what with the current state of affairs in Washington and the rhetoric and accusations that are seemingly tearing at the very fabric of U.S. society.
“In our democratic republic there was controversy and conflict over ideas from the start,” said the Litchfield resident. “But that being said, because someone disagrees with your point of view doesn’t make them an enemy or allow you to label people an ‘-ist,’ as is the case in so much discourse these days.”
How do we deal with conflicting views? Goens believes that citizenship in its highest manifestation is crucial to a civil society. “This is how you deal with diverse options; by realizing that we are all citizens of the country, in your neighborhood, your town or city, state and the country as a whole, respecting people’s opinions and not punching them in the nose.”
Goens says Donald’s Trump’s constant labeling of the free press as the enemy of the people and subliminal messages to his followers that anyone who opposes his, or their, views and ideas are not acting in the best interests of the country has damaged political and social discourse. “But on the other side, I’ve never heard a Presidential nominee (Hillary Clinton) refer to an entire part of the U.S. population as ‘deplorable.’ It has worked both ways.”
Social media, he says, where individuals have the ability to comment on issues and state their views without having to identify themselves, allows them to “lob verbal grenades” at those whose views they oppose rather than having educated and informed conversations. “There are so many epithets being tossed around, such as old white male, which I am by the way and I don’t really know what it means, along with name calling and referring to people who disagree with us as our enemies. This is a threat to our democracy and in some ways our freedom of speech. Many of us are afraid to say anything or take a stand because of how we might be judged because our beliefs.”
Goens, a Ph.D., is a recognized educator, and featured speaker. He has worked with public and private sector organizations on leadership selection, development, and assessment. Because of his experience and perspective, he has presented seminars and workshops on leadership and educational reform for regional, state, and national organizations and for school districts across the country.
He has authored nine books and has written over 60 articles in journals and magazines on leadership and education. He has also presented seminars and workshops on leadership, school reform, and leading in a crisis at regional and state conferences and for organizations and school districts across the country. In addition to speaking engagements and writing, he served as a Wisconsin superintendent of schools for 15 years, where he was awarded the title of “Outstanding Educator.”
In his most recent book, Goens states, “Splintering and separation, that threatens not only relationships, but also politics and society as a whole. Despite contemporary technology, communication and dialogue get lost in the fog of impulsive reactions and prejudices. Divisions are emphasized. Disagreements turn into name-calling and castigating. Lines are drawn, and compromising or finding areas of agreement or commonality are not pursued. Issues are sharply painted in right or wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, principled and unprincipled, intelligent or unenlightened colors. Winning, not discourse or understanding, is the goal.”
He goes on to say that “Individuals are fed up with politics, advertising, and deception emanating online, in newspapers and magazines, and from the mouths of elected officials, ‘talking heads,’ celebrities, and editors. Trust in major institutions has been shattered: Congress, the presidency, courts, police, schools, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Wall Street, religion, and even the town square.
“Although the United States has gone through similar times in the past, in the last twenty years, fragmentation has grown and is evident today in the media and politics that slice and dice citizens into demographics — gender, race, socioeconomic standing, politics, geography, generations, religion, philosophy, and a host of other categories.
“Ironically, the United States’ motto is e pluribus unum — out of many, one. While some focus on differences, the actual emphasis within society should be on unity as human beings and the common good. In real terms, while they come from different backgrounds and places, people all share the desire to fulfill their lives and those of their children and live with dignity and respect. Philosophy, not force or fear, binds this country together. A sense of principle and wholeness connects the nation. After all, the United States was founded on specific ideas and aspirations that celebrate the sovereignty and authority of all citizens.”
Goens points to the past for examples of how politicians and others disagreed on fundamental issues, sometimes to the extreme, but they were able to remain civil and respect one another. “Lyndon Johnson, a Democratic President, and Everett Dirksen, a Republican Senator from Illinois, disagreed on many things but they were able to have a drink together. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Scalia and Alan Ginsberg disagreed greatly but they remained friends. Times have changed. We only talk to people we agree with and that places us in intellectual silos.”
As a professor, Goens once had his students give reasons as to why the opinions they held on an issue were wrong. “They were taken aback but I told them if they don’t understand how an opposing viewpoint or stance to an issue is formulated how can they ever be able to defend their position.”
In his book, Goens states, “Leadership in schools is critically important to establish and model civility. Superintendents, principals, and teachers all play vital roles in ensuring a culture and climate that is civil and proper in order to foster growth, learning, and creativity. Incivility is a destructive virus that shatters relationships and atmosphere, along with the entire school climate and culture. All school personnel must model respect and appreciation for others — peers, students, and leaders. After all, the teaching and support staff are significant role models for students. Treating people well and recognizing their positive effort and outcomes verbally and in writing have a powerful impact on all.”
Going on, he states, “Life brings ambiguity and change along with success and failure. Learning to manage relationships, work with others, and confront the best way to reach goals translate to adulthood and a civil society.”
Near the conclusion of his book, Goens writes, “Citizenship is an extremely important role in creating a life of significance and living in a country and society that supports individuals in that pursuit. Civility to sustain national principles and to improve the future of the democracy is really up to an empowered people. There is no one else who is going to do it.”
For more information visit www.georgegoens.com.