THE BLOG
01/09/2011 04:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Can Pathological Politics Be Reversed?

Each of us is at least 75 percent responsible for how others treat us. If they are disdainful and we do not respond in a way that causes them to change their tone and attitude, then we essentially encourage them to continue to berate us.

This is what Americans do when they listen to shock jocks and others whose larger purpose in life is to draw attention and wealth to themselves by spewing hatred and lies.

When we don't expect support for assertions, anyone can convince us of anything. They foul our environment with vitriol seeping downward to our children where bullying is becoming more and more prevalent.

We can choose to extricate ourselves from the URPs (unwanted repetitive episodes) of vile talk. And expect the same from our leaders. First, we must notice that we're in such destructive patterns -- that we're part of the problem. Only then is it possible to take the actions necessary to end them. Does this mean doing away with criticism? It does not. Democracy depends on constructive criticism to avoid dangerous excesses. It does mean honestly distinguishing between passionate disagreements and personal attacks. It means calling on those who by distortions of fact endeavor to turn political opponents into enemies

On Meet The Press Sunday, the focus was on ways to make politics more civil. Yet, those interviewed did not directly blame shock jocks who are spreading hatred for a living. These congressmen and senators were mistaking such omission as a form of civility -- keeping the dialogue pure. In so doing, however, they abdicated their 75 percent responsibility for bringing about change. They were essentially saying, "Let's be more polite to each other" rather than "Let's bring to task those people whose bombastic, odious, contemptuous words lower us all and elicit hatred and revenge for fabricated offense."

A simple agreement to be more civil will not work for long in the House or Senate. Members need to confront their contributions to the incivility and pathological politics that has become the norm -- even if that contribution has only been one of tolerance.

Our country's politicians are caught up in URPs that are not about to go away merely by agreeing to disagree. Family members in therapy do not suddenly turn around their dysfunctional patterns because they want things to improve. It's a step-by-step process. In Washington, this will require reminding each other that spewing hatred as well as praising and catering to those who do -- especially to get votes -- is a despicable practice.

Learning to call people on their hateful rhetoric is a required first step. Otherwise it's all simply a temporary papering over of ugliness that will surely show through again in short order.

For the rest of us, breaking the URP requires refusing to listen to shock jocks whose hateful rants lack any semblance of credible support. Our own URPs, being entertained by hatred, contribute to continued vile discourse. Each of us has a role to play in bringing about greater civility -- at least 75 percent responsibility. Doing so has little to do with politeness and far more to do with refusing to engage in gratuitous, hateful hyperbole and rejecting overtly those who do.

Kathleen also blogs at bardscove (www.bardscove.com) and comebacksatwork and is on Twitter. @comebackskid