Examples of the deterioration of once common values like courtesy and respect for others have often been brought to public attention, but seldom have those examples been so prominently displayed than they have in recent days.

Bad manners like using cell phones in restaurants or theaters and the various acts of disgust known collectively as road rage are disturbing enough. But three incidents – the interruption of a presidential speech by a congressman, the obscenities hurled by tennis star against a line judge and the preemption of an acceptance speech by an entertainer who thought someone else deserved the award more – have made international headlines.

Apologies have been offered by each of those individuals, and their sincerity is something that can only be determined in the minds of those directly affected. It is unfortunate that some observers have concluded that they detect hints of racism in each of these outbursts, even though President Obama – at least in the incident in which he was involved – disputed it.

Some of these matters – like a ruling in a sports tournament or an award for an entertainer – are less significant in the grand scope of things. But others, like the debate over the future direction of health care, are literally life-and-death issues. They deserve – and demand – a higher level of discourse, whether it occurs in a House of Congress, at a town hall meeting or over coffee at the neighborhood diner.

Common courtesy has to start with a willingness to understand the opinions of those with whom we disagree, and by having a sincere interest in finding common ground. A diverse society is not well-served by the type of angry polarity today’s society is fostering.

Americans should remember that they pledge allegiance to “one nation under God,” and then behave accordingly. Respect for and understanding of differing opinions and values – plus an appreciation of the freedom each side enjoys to express their views – are first steps toward bridging apparent impasses. This nation is noted for its ability to devise suitable and acceptable solutions to its most pressing problems.

And it wouldn’t hurt if we would also review the lessons found in Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

Brownwood Bulletin