Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: The word for today, and for the holidays

dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 22, 2013 

The word for today is civility.

The Institute for Civility in Government defines civility as "claiming and caring for one's identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else's in the process."

That's a nice definition, and it applies to more than politics -- like spending time with your family over the holidays.

It's common knowledge that Thanksgiving dinner is probably not the best time to question your father's political party or analyze your sister's life decisions or pitch your plan for dividing up grandma's estate.

Everybody knows it's better to focus on the things you have in common, and try to listen and learn about a few things you don't.

But it's easier said than done.

Eight years ago, my wife told me that her aunt and uncle would be staying with us for a few days. This seemed unusual. They'd lived in New York most of their lives and had recently retired to Pennsylvania. What were they doing in Georgia in late November?

Bess said they were meeting friends at Fort Benning, which also seemed strange because her uncle wasn't exactly a military guy.

Except they weren't actually meeting on Fort Benning, Bess said. More like outside the gate.

Oh. They were SOA protesters.

When they arrived at our house, I went upstairs to find my kids. My oldest son, who was then 8 years old, was sitting at his desk making a special drawing for his aunt and uncle. It was the unit insignia for the 75th Ranger Regiment, flanked by hulking Rangers firing weapons and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with enemy troops.

I'm not kidding. He'd picked up the idea from the sergeant who lived next door.

Downstairs, my 10-year-old daughter was asking the aunt what they were doing in town. The aunt explained that they would be attending a happy celebration on Saturday and then a somber service on Sunday.

I thought it was a nice, civil answer.

There were some awkward moments, of course.

Like when they noticed the beer steins, Bavarian landscapes and Christmas pyramid around the house and wondered if we'd ever lived in Germany.

Yes, for four years, which they thought was wonderful.

Except that I was in the Army, which they didn't think was so wonderful.

And at dinner one night, the uncle, who to his credit was a voracious newspaper reader, took offense to a Ledger-Enquirer article in which Richard Hyatt had described the protestors as "ragtag."

I had edited the article, and based on past observations, it did not seem inaccurate. But sitting around my table with two fairly well-groomed SOA protesters, I wasn't so sure.

Bess' aunt laughed and touched her husband on the shoulder. "Dear," she said, "we are ragtag!"

It was a good visit. We talked about literature and shape note singing and the state of education in America. They even told us about Pete Seeger's composting toilet. My sons enjoyed that one.

And when the conversation started to veer off into a place nobody wanted it to go, somebody said something to make sure it didn't go there.

Civility saved the day.

May it do the same for all of us this holiday season.

Contact Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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