Many of my liberal friends (and I certainly have a liberal streak of my own, though that is blended with other streaks, including Jeffersonian libertarianism — more on that some other time and place) posted with glee Jon Stuart’s return to the other night to political commentary, on his buddy Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.
There was an edge and anger to his diatribe, though he tried to pass it off as comedic, that was directed only against Republicans alas, and that certainly can touch a chord with his acolytes and perhaps alarmed others.
I’m not a political commentator, though, I’m a philosopher; a Socratic philosopher; who operates from a philosophy of childing, no less. So I’ll stick with a theme that relates to my more foundational approach to human encounter and flourishing.
Here’s what bothered me (what we Southerners would say ‘stuck in my craw’) about Stewart’s commentary — the name-calling. The needless, needlessly insulting, name-calling.
Jon — who lived in my dorm at the College of William & Mary my senior year there — referred again and again to Sean Hannity as ‘Lumpy.’
Why is it necessary to resort to needless insulting nicknames?
Make your point — funny point, serious point, a blend of both — but dispense with the name-calling. It’s not comedy. It’s not funny. And it sends the worst message to kids and adults who revere him and take this to mean it’s okay, and then become impressionable copycats.
Now, I’m certainly guilty of name-calling myself. But thankfully my oldest daughter Cali is my conscience. and reminds me never to call anyone names. I’d like to be able to tell you that I instructed her about this. In fact, I’m pretty sure I did. But in typical holier than thou fashion, I have not always practiced what I preach. Cali does.
In Cali’s nearly ten years of life, I’ve never once heard her call anyone a name, certainly not a mean-spirited one. And if she hears someone calling another person a name that is insulting if not downright bullying, she is the first to step to the fore and come to that person’s defense. I want her to be as mature and brave as Cali is one day.
Are there exceptions to this name-calling rule?
Sure there are, when there’s no mean edge, for instance, and maybe when the recipient himself has given himself the name. Or maybe not. When I was just entering my teen years, a girl I was madly in love with (but whom I was for the longest while too shy to inform of my sentiments) called me Tipsy — she said I always acted silly, like I’d just had a drink at happy hour. It was a harmless nickname that I welcomed. (Far from the kind issued from someone, when I was in my latter 20s, who called me a “ferret” relentlessly — and who only stopped when I turned the tables and called him a “buck-toothed beaver.”)
Since this was well before I discovered the world of alcohol (which I undiscovered in my late 20s), my behavior wasn’t chemically-induced. Hey, I was in love. If that doesn’t make you act in a tipsy way, I don’t know what will. In any event, I welcomed Donna’s attention, an besides that, the name was bestowed on me with a kind heart. If I’d told her I didn’t like it, I’m absolutely sure Donna would have stopped calling me Tipsy at once.
But needless name-calling, of a mean sort, has little or no place in this world. And it sets a horrible example and tone in a world already become ever more polarized, in which demonization is more and more the rule rather than the expception. My former William & Mary dormitory mate should know better.
Jon and Donald Trump once got into a name-calling melee. Trump started it on a Tweet, saying “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart” (Jon’s birth name is Jon Stewart Liebowitz, and many believed that Trump’s reference smacked of anti-Semitism). Jon didn’t take the high road. He used his The Daily Show to top Trump to the nth degree.
Instead of taking the high road, Jon not only stooped to Trump’s miserable level — a level that seems to be bottomless in Trump’s case, especially since he threw his hat into the presidential ring, sickeningly reducing our politics to an even more abysmal form — but did him many times worse.
While I’m on my soapbox, we adults have to quit referring to this pernicious name-calling behavior as childish — such as this article that refers to Trump’s “childish name calling.” While the article correctly connotes such name-calling to a “time-honored strategy of bullying,” it is not in any way, shape or form necessarily childish — rather, in most cases it is the worst form of ‘adultish’ (a term, as anyone who knows who’s read my latest book, along with ‘adultishness,’ I’m determined to introduce and make part of our lexicon).
Will this name-calling nightmare end?
If so, I feel sure that it will only come to pass when we adults allow kids like my daughter Cali to show us the way, and we follow their consistent example.
p.s. Come to think of it, I’ve never once heard my three-year-old daughter Cybele call anyone any sort of bad or mean name either. She takes her cue from her oldest sister, with whom she is inseparable — and when they are separable, and Cybele is at pre-school, in all the hours I’ve spent there with the kids, I’ve never once, never once heard any name calling (except on a couple of occasions from an adult)
p.s. 2: I’m sometimes asked by journalists if I can recall my worst Socrates Cafe experience. I can. It happened 17 years ago, at a seniors community center. The question they invited me to facilitate was “Why don’t young people practice our values?” The dialogue fast devolved into a shouting match among the seniors. They refused to allow me to facilitate a thoughtful philosophical exploration, and indeed, soon forgot altogether my presence. The participants — who ranged in ages from their early 70s to their early 90s — proceeded to level at one another just about every horrible name you can imagine — names I can’t, or at least won’t, repeat here. I simply got up from my chair and left while they were in the middle of this name-calling brawl; they paid me no mind whatsoever. Sure made me glad that young people don’t emulate their values, since it appeared that vicious name-calling was this group’s value numero uno. (And let me stress that, of the many thousands of dialogues I’ve held across the globe, this is by far my worst experience, and very very very much the exception — in nearly all cases, participants more than rise to their higher angels, and are exemplary models of thoughtfulness.)