Editorial: Embrace civility now for better discourse

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 2, 2020

The country has been growing more divided politically for years, and the health crisis has made the divisions even more pronounced. 

A study conducted in mid-June and published the same month by the Pew Research Center show divides about views on basic, everyday tasks between Republicans and those who lean Republican and Democrats and those who lean Democratic. 

The percentage of people who say they’re comfortable going to a barbershop or hair salon, for example, is much higher among Republicans than Democrats (72 to 37). The same is true for eating out in a restaurant (65 to 28).

Those divides have, naturally, spread to everyday discourse. Humans are, by nature, social animals. But that socialization looks a lot different today than it did just a few months ago. 

With large, in-person gatherings prohibited, smartphones, social media and the internet are the primary ways people communicate. It’s easier to insult than to listen or read a different view point. It’s easy, too, to create an echo chamber that magnifies our own opinions. Those reactions aren’t necessarily new, but they seem more frequent now.

Faced with an unprecedented situation in which health officials are still figuring best practices out as they go, it takes time to report complete and accurate data. For weeks, Rowan health officials have known there were more negative tests than they were receiving. They’ve been transparent about the issue, too, making sure to explain any discrepancies when asked. But when health officials finally received a figure for the tests not previously received and updated statistics with more than 10,000 negatives, it was immediately called “fake.” 

Stories about people dying from COVID-19, here and elsewhere, immediately draw questions about the validity of the death — an unsavory reaction. 

Let’s question statistics when necessary but start by mourning a life lost too soon. 

It’s unfortunate that the coronavirus pandemic has become so divisive. We feel confident the people working in health care, compiling statistics and doing local news reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic have good intentions, even if they fall short at times. 

In a widely shared social media post last week and after witnessing the bitter divide himself, WBTV reporter David Whisenant may have said it best, “Personally, I just don’t understand how people can be so nasty.”

Whether it’s coronavirus or any other matter, the community should look to heal divides, embrace civil conversation instead of tearing others down and, in doing so, take small steps toward making Salisbury and Rowan County a better place to live. It’s a big task, but our community must be up to the challenge.