Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Charity Toward Another's Good Name

December 25, 2000

In this era of dimpled chads, recounts and a virtual tie for the presidency, we sank into 36 days of post-election rancorous partisanship. The object was to win and to gain a public relation advantage by casting the foe into a negative light. Both candidates took reasonable legal steps to secure the victory while the opponent was accused of using unfair tactics. The country polarized around the candidates as precisely as the vote itself.

The fine art of bashing. To win, politicians are tempted to go for the dirt, the mud-slinging and the political jugular. This activity is dignified by the term "negative campaigning." There is another modern term we use to describe discourse that is unseemly, rude and destructive: "bashing." According to the dictionary, to bash is to strike a heavy, crushing blow.

Bashing is an all out assault on the character and reputation of an opponent in order to gain an advantage. Bashing comes from both sides of the political spectrum. Unfortunately the "character" issue gained legitimacy during the presidency of Bill Clinton. His moral example of marital infidelity and lies was a burden for American parents who expected better of their president.

Bashers use innuendo, rumors or actual past misconduct to discredit their opponents. Politics can be vicious. Every uttered statement and vote is examined for defect or inconsistency. It goes beyond the public record. The private lives of politicians - their youth, their careers, their marriages, their children, their past history with alcohol and drugs are subject to scrutiny.

Who among us could stand up to that kind of unrelenting scrutiny? How many of the good and honorable people have been elected to high office have private regrets about the public service they perform? How many privately feel, "I want my life back," when their daily lives are filled with demanding schedules and the constant glare of media attention?

The role of the media. The media is more than willing to give time and space to bashers - to publish or broadcast the sordid and the sensational. Sensationalism boosts ratings and sells copy. In the name of reporting the news, the media bombards us with graphic accounts of human misconduct, greed, violence and sexual crimes. Insulting remarks between business, political and athletic opponents spice up the news.

Despite their own mistakes in reporting election results, the media loved the post-election drama of Bush vs. Gore. Plenty of air time and print space was given to the vitriolic talk of strident spin-doctors - all aimed at an audience eager to take sides.

An opportunity or a disaster? In the end, we like gracious losers and magnanimous winners. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush set a high-minded tone in their concession and victory speeches. This spawned hope for bipartisan cooperation on tough issues, even against the backdrop of a partisan Washington political scene and the specter of gridlock and animosity.

In the political arena, our nation is divided in half with surgical precision. Can we govern from the center or will it be too easy for partisans to gum up the works for a future political advantage? In the face of electoral equality, can we turn a tie into a victory? Can our nation rise above a house divided?

Charity toward all. In our private lives, how much bashing do we do? How willing are we to bash a neighbor, a family member, a public servant, a country or another race? An antidote for bashing is charity; not the charity of giving to the poor, but the charity with which we treat each other's good name.

"Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don't judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another's weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.

"None of us need one more person bashing us or pointing out where we have failed or fallen short. Most of us are already aware of the areas in which we are weak. What each of us need is family, friends, and employers who support us, who have patience to teach us, who believe in us, and who believe we're trying the best we can, in spite of our weaknesses.

"What ever happened to giving each other the benefit of the doubt? What ever happened to hoping that another person would succeed or achieve? What ever happened to rooting for each other? . . . If we could look into each other's hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us face, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance and care." - Marvin J. Ashton

From my counseling practice, I’ve noticed how easy it is for couples to engage in negative characterizations and hostile attacks. I hope we can, both privately and publicly, refrain from bashing - to be generous in our praise and reluctant in our impulse to criticize.

There is more than one point of view. Nobody is perfect. We can communicate with care. Slanderous and mean-spirited comments don't aid our cause. Feelings and reputations are delicate. Some things are better left unsaid. Through mutual respect and understanding, we can sort out our differences and find common ground. In personal affairs, the best negotiations take place between equals.