Civility challenge: 'praise rather than denigrate'

“Little Marco,” “Low-energy Bush,” “Crooked Hillary.” Sound familiar? But the worst put-down during the 2016 campaign season was that of long-time senator, John McCain: “He is a war hero [only] because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Donald Trump uttered disdainfully.

Supposedly, people who feel inadequate often resort to insults, to put-downs, especially of competitors, to bolster their own fragile egos.


Recently, in a public forum, I listened to a forensic psychiatrist denigrate the authors of several medical reports. First, she accused one doctor, considered a top Maryland internist, of malpractice for not diagnosing a woman with early dementia (when it is easy to mask symptoms, especially if the patient is educated and well bred). She then claimed she tried to Google this doctor, but couldn’t find him. When I Googled him, I not only found his bio and his photo, but I also found a list of his many published articles.

Then this same psychiatrist laughed at a geriatrician for prescribing Zoloft. “He hasn’t kept up with modern medicine,” she commented. Not true.


Responding to three detailed patient reports written by an experienced nurse, this psychiatrist added, “they don’t make sense,” and therefore the reports “should be taken with a grain of salt.” Finally, she wondered why another psychiatrist did pro bono work when he was famous!

Last month’s mean-spirited White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, at which comedian Michelle Wolf attacked Sara Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump, really went too far — whether one likes or hates these three women.

“The correspondents’ dinner comedy act … is supposed to be a roast of the current administration, not a human sacrifice,” wrote Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker.

Once upon a time, when a girl who wore glasses was called “four eyes” and a chubby boy was labeled “fatso,” we called it bullying, and wise parents and teachers criticized such name-calling.

Today, however, both name-calling and put-downs have become acceptable. But when this behavior escalates, it can become dangerous, especially to adolescents, who value belonging and popularity among peers. Sadly, there have been too many instances of suicide as a result of bullying.

But if this is something that professionals do — and our U.S. president does, often on a daily basis — what hope do we have to become better people, a better nation?

In his recent and excellent book, “The Common Good,” Robert Reich, a former labor secretary, writes about the many unfortunate reasons why the common good is rapidly disappearing today.

“Whether we call ourselves Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, we share many of the same anxieties and feel much of the same distrust,” he writes in the introduction. “We have nonetheless been cleaved into warring ideological tribes, and tribes within those tribes. Some of us have even been seduced by demagogues and conspiracy theorists. We seem to be a long way from when John F. Kennedy asked that Americans contribute to the well-being of all. We no longer even discuss what we owe one another as members of that society.”


If we continue on this path, it will be our undoing. To prevent that from happening, each of us has a responsibility to support that good. So I challenge you: Praise rather than denigrate; not only will you feel better but someone else will too.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is