The courthouse, Facebook and the erosion of civility

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, November 8, 2017

By the time we all went to bed on Tuesday night, the citizens of Franklin and Southampton County made their decision on the courthouse referendum known. Yet for the purpose of this discussion the outcome is irrelevant.

For months, the courthouse referendum has been the hottest topic of debate in Western Tidewater, and there was no better place to bear witness to its impact on this community than on social media and, more specifically, on Facebook.

Ah, Facebook. That wonderful invention that allows people to reconnect with old friends, share cute photos of their kids or pets, and from the safety of their keyboards and smartphones, lie, perpetuate rumors and assassinate the character and reputation of their “friends.” This courthouse issue, one of the most divisive in our community’s recent history, has truly brought out the worst in many of us.

And it has played out for all to see right on our very own computer screens.

Facebook can be fun, and social media has its place. But as these new forms of communication have taken root in society, we have also lost our grip on old-fashioned and time-tested ways of appropriately and effectively interacting with each other. Dying is the art of conversation and the ability to agree to disagree with one another, all the while maintaining eye contact and exchanging a firm but warm handshake when a conversation is complete. In their place are sterile electronic interactions where a person feels empowered to say whatever they want without having to say it to a person’s face, often times saying it to someone they have never met and with no regard for the consequences of their comments.

On the front page of today’s paper, you can find out whether citizens voted to build a new courthouse or renovate the old one, but for purposes of this conversation and with apologies to Mr. Butler, quite frankly we don’t give a damn. Because whether trials are held or records are kept in Courtland or in Franklin, or if we spend $26 million or $15 million to build new or repair the old, one thing will remain true: the majority of us are likely to remain neighbors for years to come regardless of what was the outcome.

While the grotesque displays of incivility on social media in recent weeks could lead one to believe otherwise, we still choose to think we will ultimately place a higher value on how we treat each other than where we go to pay a speeding ticket.

The courthouse isn’t the first issue in this community to cause differences of opinion, and it sure won’t be the last.

We just hope that next time an opportunity presents itself for us to disagree with one another, we do so with a little more civility and a lot more love for our neighbors in our hearts.