Oswald Letter

What Would Your Mother Say?

My mother is a wonderful woman. She’s a gentle, caring, nurturing person. When I was growing up, she instilled in me and my siblings a sense of how to treat others. My mother did this by example more than anything. She showed us how to treat others through her actions and words. She rarely, if ever, said anything derogatory about someone, and it was unusual for her to even raise her voice. That’s why I know she was shocked by some of the actions of recent weeks.

We saw a Congressman shout “You lie!” at the President of the United States during the middle of the President’s speech. We had a highly visible tennis professional berate and threaten a line judge on national television. And we watched in amazement as a high-profile entertainer stole the spotlight from and embarrassed a young performer in the middle of her acceptance speech for an award she’d just won.

Didn’t these people have mothers growing up? Had I been the perpetrator of any of these outbursts, I would have received a call from my mother asking me if I had lost my mind.

You’re sitting listening to the President of the United States give a speech to Congress with hundreds of your peers and an international television audience, and you can’t control yourself? Maybe you disagree with what he’s said. Maybe you even believe that he has stretched the truth or intentionally misled people. Is the best response to scream out in the middle of the speech and accuse him of lying? What happened to making a case for your argument in a civil manner? What happened to open and honest debate about ideas without it becoming a personal attack? Did Congressman Wilson really believe that the best way to get his point across was to call the President a liar?

Same can be said of Serena Williams. I understand she’s a competitor. Maybe she stepped on the line, maybe she didn’t. A foot fault at that point in the match is a bit touchy, but the line judge was doing her job. And we’ve seen other tennis pros, some of them very famous, berate judges before. But Ms. Williams threatened the judge with bodily harm. What’s more, her outburst cost her the match. That’s what’s amazing to me. She was so out of control that she lost sight of what was on the line. Her opponent won the match without another serve being made because Ms. Williams was disqualified.

And Kanye West was the final example that we’ve forgotten how to treat one another. Mr. West walked onto the stage where 19-year-old Taylor Swift, who had just won an award, was giving her acceptance speech. Mr. West took the microphone from Ms. Swift and proceeded to tell her that Beyonce was more deserving of the award. He not only stole that moment from Ms. Swift, but he publicly embarrassed her. In whose mind is this the appropriate thing to do? I’m sure he’d have had ample opportunity to share his thoughts with every tabloid after the ceremony. They’re always looking for controversy. But instead he ambles onto the stage and grabs the microphone in an act that was stunning for its insensitivity.

So, I ask again, were these three raised without a mother’s influence?

Beyonce surely wasn’t. When she won an award later that same evening, she invited Taylor Swift back on stage to finish the acceptance speech that was so rudely interrupted — a very classy move that helped restore some of my faith in humankind.

Are we witnessing a decline in human civility? And, if so, what is behind it?  Why do we think we can treat each other this way? Did Congressman Wilson really believe that calling the President a liar was the best way to convince people of his own views on the issue? Did Serena Williams really want to get disqualified in the Finals of the U.S. Open? Did Kanye West believe that everyone would nod in agreement and thank him for bringing his opinion to our attention in such a crass manner?

By the way, all three have apologized for their behavior, so that tells you that they don’t even believe that what they did was right. So why couldn’t they help themselves?

What’s acceptable behavior in the workplace? Is it ever acceptable to scream at a co-worker? Does it help to raise your voice in order to get your point across? What about publicly humiliating someone at work? If they’ve made a mistake, is it OK to call everyone’s attention to it to make an example of it as a teaching moment?

I’d argue no every single time. Screaming and ranting in the workplace is boorish behavior. You can get your point across without raising your voice. You can show that you are serious and resolute in your position without intimidating others. You can make a strong argument without threatening. You must be respectful if you want to be respected.

Some people think that screaming, intimidation, or belittling others will make them look good in front of the boss. Or they think that a position of authority excuses or even requires that they treat others as “subordinates.” I can tell you that nothing is farther from the truth. The person who belittles or treats others like a lower class only demonstrates his own insecurities and his inability to truly lead others. He can’t lead because he won’t have the respect of those around them.

You cannot tell me that the average person did not lose some amount of respect for the three people I used as examples above. Representative Wilson may be a great congressman, Ms. Williams may be the world’s best female tennis player, and Kanye West might be one of the best musical talents around, but we respect them less today for the way they chose to treat others.

Make sure you preserve the respect of those around you. Treat them the way your mother taught you to treat others. They deserve it, and you’re more likely to get their respect.

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