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Letter From the Editor: A Word About Civility

The governor of Colorado is former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, but, more important, he is the former proprietor of a popular local brew pub.

If you do not live up here where the air is thin, you’ve probably never heard of him. He does not say something just to piss somebody off, and he’d never think of making any of our places prone to traffic jams any worse just for “s*its and giggles,” let alone to punish someone.

He’s a former barkeeper with a personality for getting along with most everybody most of the time. That in and of itself is bit unusual these days. Lately the country seems to elect people from the “confrontational professions” as governors. To me, too many of them come across as preachy or pushy.

Being for the moment among the minority of states with a governor who simply knows the service business and who doesn’t get all egotistical about his current office seems like a kind of blessing.

I was reminded this week of all of this when Hickenlooper came through northern Colorado to mend fences from the little dustup we had last year about “succession.” He’s out to temper the kind of locker-room talk left over from the succession boomlet that’s now over and focus on areas where he’s worked well with politicians from both parties, such as flood relief.

His whole approach reminded me that it’s again time to have one of our little chats about tempering our own talk. At Food Safety News, we say we value the conversation, and we do. It’s just that when writing comments or commentary, it’s too easy to take the cheap shot.

We all do it. Just a couple weeks ago, I connected the word “charlatans” with the supplements industry. I should have left it with the factual report that science has found all those vitamins and minerals the supplements industry has turned into a $28-billion-per-year business are, in fact, worthless. It weakened my argument to connect the facts with a cheap label.

I’m not the only one writing occasional commentaries around here who occasionally makes that mistake. Mostly, however, I am thinking about all of you who usually do us proud with your comments. The strongest comments are always those that rest on the best evidence and not on personal insults.

The reason I think our governor usually gets his rhetoric right is that he came up talking to people across the bar. That’s the sort of environment where you have a pretty free field for making your points, but where you probably do not want to be too quick or easy with the nasty stuff because bar fights do still happen from time to time.

Civility, as they say, goes a long way.

© Food Safety News
  • BugsOldChum

    1) There is far too much evidence that prudent and intelligent use of supplements & herbal remedies is effective. Do your research. 2) Don’t you mean “goes a long way?”

    • “Do your research.”

      Were you attempting to demonstrate uncivil commentary?

  • It’s hard to define what is civil, though. I don’t mind a sharp word or two, as long as the commentary is intelligent. And I’ve seen too many conversations shut down because people equate civility with blind agreement.

    I agree, your use of “charlatan” may not have been ‘civil’, but when it’s not used in a personal context, is there harm in using it? If you found that it set a bad tone for the commentary, then yeah, it probably wasn’t a good idea. But it can be a sound word, and an appropriate word in context.

    I guess I’m less interested in civil, and more interested in intelligent, thoughtful commentary that is lacking in exclamation points, all caps, and personal insults.

    (PS May want to leave off the horse posts for a while.)

  • Oginikwe

    “. . .I connected the word “charlatans” with the supplements industry. I
    should have left it with the factual report that science has found all
    those vitamins and minerals the supplements industry has turned into a
    $28-billion-per-year business are, in fact, worthless.”

    Is there another better word to use towards an industry who garners $28 billion for worthless products?

    Refusing to write what you really think will make you a crummy editor. I don’t agree with all of your views but you are the genuine article and that should be respected. There is such a thing as civil discourse but sometimes an uncivil discourse is called for as long as it is based on researched information. Sometimes facts are hard to come by–research is skewed according to who’s funding the research or the actual results don’t fit with the hidden agenda in another way–and when that comes out, the new information allows us to change our minds. That doesn’t mean we have to “play nice” with people who deliberately mislead us and abuse the public trust.

    With all due respect, Mr. Flynn, without what you are calling “uncivil discourse,” we wouldn’t have Mark Twain, Jonathon Swift, Upton Sinclair, Terry Tempest Williams, Margaret Atwood, and many other wonderful writers who constantly challenge the status quo. That doesn’t make you “uncivil,” that makes you an idealist.

  • Barry Cohan

    Dear Mr. Flynn,
    Please accept my thanks for brightening up my morning. An unanticipated place to find myself uplifted, to be sure, but I’m happy to take it where I can find it.
    Barry Cohan
    Nha Trang, Vietnam

  • margie

    Mr. Flynn,
    Yes civility does create more credibility regarding the view one is presenting. I am not sure how “locker-room” talk enhances your praise of the governor of Colorado over the citizens of eastern Colorado.

  • Smilngangel

    Who do you think is going to fund a double blind scientific study proving supplements helpful – the Big Pharma who cannot make any profits from supplemental sales and profit from illnesses and disease???

    • Alan F

      The supplements industry is making 28 billion per year. They don’t fund the studies because when the results are in, they are going out of business.