CULTURE OF SHOUTING UNDERMINES DEMOCRACY

SOUTH Africans appear to be turning into a nation of angry, intolerant and rude people. It seems we have lost our ability to talk, debate and disagree civilly. Instead we shout angrily, insult or try to humiliate one another into silence.

SOUTH Africans appear to be turning into a nation of angry, intolerant and rude people. It seems we have lost our ability to talk, debate and disagree civilly. Instead we shout angrily, insult or try to humiliate one another into silence.

Alarmingly, incidents like the one in which the national chairman of Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association, Kebby Maphatsoe issued a statement saying Kader Asmal, the former education minister, must go to the "nearest cemetery and die", appears to have become the 'normal' way of responding to different opinions.

Maphatsoe had responded to Asmal's rather mild criticisms of the ANC government.

Responding to opposing views in a civil way is simply good manners and decency.

The tone in which leaders and individuals respond to viewpoints different to their own is often a good indicator of the health of a democracy.

Public debate, dialogue and talk are often conducted in a "raging" tone. Decency, politeness and respect for others, even if we disagree, appear to be on the wane. Many think the only way to be heard is to shout, insult and humiliate others.

It is not only national leaders that have adopted this culture. Individual, family and community disagreements are also conducted by shouting insults, wanting to humiliate and denigrate someone one disagrees with. So ingrained has this culture of shouting to be heard become that even some government leaders appear to attend to the needs of constituencies only when they shout at them, through (violent) protests.

In a democracy we have to be able to disagree respectfully, in families, communities or in politics. It is difficult to hear one another when each side tries to shout their views. No good can come from conducting public conversations by shouting.

No proper policy can be worked out, priorities cannot be inclusively decided on, no consensus can be cobbled together.

Leadership also appear wrongly to be seen as who can shout the loudest, the angriest and appear to be the most bellicose. The shoot-to-kill policy statements are right in line with this muscular approach to public policy.

In fact, it seems many attribute "strong" leadership qualities to how loudly one verbally attack opponents. The idea appears to be to annihilate them, assassinate their character, reputation and credibility.

S outh Africans appear not to have mastered the art of disagreeing decently. Having disagreements, different opinions and viewpoints are perfectly natural and normal.

What is important is how they are expressed and managed. Violently - whether verbally or physically - attacking those who disagree with one is neither good manners, civil nor in the spirit of democracy.

Furthermore, it appears the nation is made up of insecure citizens: uncertain about their individual places in families, society, workplace and politics. Everybody appears to want to make their point by violent exaggeration.

Democratic societies need to talk about problems to solve them and to sample the best alternative solutions. But if political contestation is conducted in an atmosphere of rage, it is impossible to have informed debates or discussions.

Without civility solving society's myriad problems is impossible. Our democracy will remain of low quality unless we determinedly push civility, respect and decency back to centre stage of our everyday and public life.

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