We’re In A Crisis Of Civility

By Rogan Smith |
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There are two words in the Bahamian lexicon that are so offensive, so revolting that they could easily be regarded among the worst of the worst.

Violent fights have been started, lives have been lost and friendships ripped to shreds over two tiny words encompassing just four letters . . . ya ma. And if that offending party goes a step further and refers to said mother’s private parts, prepare for war.

The mere mention of someone’s mother in an argument transports the offended person to a much different and dangerous state of mind.

What You Say About My Mama

Bahamians have been talking about each other’s mothers for years. This is nothing new. But, gone are the days of fights with bottles and rocks. They have been replaced with protracted verbal combats over social media, clever, yet hurtful memes and if the opportunity presents itself, confrontations with guns as back-up.

As we saw last week, even politicians are not immune. FNM Senator Ranard Henfield has been facing his own PR nightmare after using a highly offensive homophobic slur to refer to a Facebook poster who had made derogatory remarks about his mother.

Ranard Henfield
FNM Senator, Ranard Henfield. Photo courtesy of The Nassau Guardian.

In that moment, his anger was directed at one person. But, the entire gay community got hit in the crossfire.

Both the senator and his attacker are at fault. But, guess whose name made the headlines?

It’s not news for wolves to howl at the moon. That’s what they do. It only becomes news when the moon howls back. What am I saying? A nameless, faceless, nothing-to-lose Facebook poster with an axe to grind has the liberty to say what he or she wants, even if it’s disgusting and disrespectful. But, the minute the person with a heavy-hitting name or recognizable face responds in kind, then it becomes news.

Senator Henfield has since apologized for his choice of words. He deserves to be forgiven. However, it will not come on his time, but rather when the individuals who were offended choose to do so.

This is why it is so important that we are careful with our words. We spend our days spewing vitriol at others, forgetting that they are human and have family who love them and have to hear or read all of this garbage.

That's Very Hurtful

I have listened to disrespectful talk show hosts who lash out at others. These cowards behind a microphone have no qualms in verbally assaulting others and their family members, but the minute someone returns fire it’s a problem and suddenly they’re in their feelings. There is a way to criticize someone without getting personal. The minute you do that you’ve lost your argument. Even worse, we the public, encourage it, goading them on and slurping up salacious gossip to quench our insatiable thirst for dirt.

The road to civility is not an easy one to travel. It’s not easy to remain respectful when the people around you aren’t. They operate by different rules. But, we can’t play their game. Some people will always be held to a higher standard. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. We also have to remember that not every insult warrants a response.

Because we’re only human, we’re liable to slip from time-to-time. But, we must exercise tremendous restraint.

I have a simple approach. During public disagreements, I pretend that everything I am saying is being recorded by CNN or about to be printed in the New York Times. That thought is usually enough to keep me in check. I avoid getting personal and keep it to the issue at hand and I certainly don’t drag anyone’s mother into it.

Does that mean that I don’t get angry or want to attack the person who is lashing out at me? No. I do. I just don’t. I’ve got too much to lose.

NeNe Leakes

A few months ago, I purchased a cosmetic product from a store, took it home and realized it was defective. It was a retractable eyebrow pencil but the entire pencil had been broken off. I contacted the store and told the manager about the situation. She told me that they do not accept returned cosmetic products. I was a frequent customer at this store and had never experienced an issue like this, but on this occasion, I was being told that even though I had been inconvenienced, I could not return the defective product for a replacement or get my money back. (As an FYI, if someone tells you no, you’re talking to the wrong person. So, keep going up the ladder.) I did that and eventually got my issue resolved.

In relaying this story to a friend, she told me I was too nice and said she would have popped off on that lady and they would have given her what she wanted and then some. My friend said she has no issue whatsoever in “cutting a movie” – translation, making a scene. In relaying this story to another friend, he promptly reminded me that me and my friend were in two different places in life. She could cut her movie and it would be shown on one screen for one hour. Mine would be broadcast at the multiplex for months.

You have to look at what you have to lose and act like it because one moment of anger could have a lifetime of consequences.

For those who feast on others’ misfortunes, remember that everyone gets their day of reckoning. Today it’s Senator Henfield. Tomorrow it could be you. When you go online today reading offensive comments that you find hilarious, insert your name or your family member’s names in that post. Tell me if you still find it funny. When you send that video of someone’s dead body over WhatsApp, imagine it were your mother’s remains that were making the rounds.

Kevin Hart

When that talk show host calls someone’s wife or child a derogatory name and callers weigh in giving their support, imagine it were your wife or child they were talking about.

Think before you speak and answer respectfully when your name is called.

I want to hear what you have to say.

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