Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Are Manners Important?

I tend to think so. I'm not a manners wank or anything. I don't carry around Emily Post, making sure that the forks are in their correct positions on the table. Yet I find manners to be an essential part of a civil life.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger's manners were less than impeccable when he "welcomed"
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by calling him a "petty or cruel dictator" during his introduction. Columbia extended an invitation to speak to a known petty and cruel dictator. Such an invitation should by nature include the initial civility that Ahmadinejad (as a petty and cruel dictator) obviously lacks by treating him with the respect we Americans believe he should be according all humans.

Laws protecting human rights and dignity stem from ethical and moral systems that deem all humans ought to give and receive respect, regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, or other differences from the majority rule. How can the US claim a moral high ground against a country like Iran or a dictator like Ahmadinejad if we can't even manage a simple welcoming speech that actual welcomes the individual we invited?

Were Bollinger's statements false? Nope. Ahmadinejad is a cretinous creep. But, if you believe in the freedom of speech, as we Americans profess to do (at least, we do when we agree with the speech being given), we allow people like Ahmadinejad or white supremacists or gay bashers a chance to mount the podium and spread their filth. Doesn't it follow that if you have then invited such a cretinous creep to exercise the American right of free speech that you would not insult the cretinous creep before he even opens his mouth?

For me, it's the invitation extended that makes the difference. If Bollinger (or anyone else, including me) took the podium to speak about Iran and Ahmadinejad's government, making the very same statements, I wouldn't object. I don't usually feel the need to mince words. Obviously.

But if you extend an invitation to someone to speak to you, I believe you have an attendant obligation to greet and listen respectfully to that person. Even if he's not respectful in any way, shape or form to others. Once he's done speaking, responding to his speech or previous behavior is fair game, I think.

If Bollinger felt he needed to put distance between himself and Ahmadinejad's message of fictional history (yep, those six million Jews who died were just a bedtime story) and hatred for others, he had options. Bollinger could have stated that he strongly and completely disagreed with what Ahmadinejad stood for while noting that here in America, unlike in Iran, those with whom we disagree are still allowed to speak. And then Bollinger could have moved off the platform and let Ahmadinejad do so.

Allowing and encouraging free speech in a civil setting sends a message to the world about life in a democracy (ok, republic). Being discourteous sends a message, too. Which message would we rather send to the Middle East?



Blogger Suna said...

Yup, you're right. If you invite someone to speak, you should at least be civil to them.

2:28 PM  

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