Aristotle is credited with saying that law is reason free from passion. He’s also the one who came up with the rule of law – which includes the notion that we can’t just pick and choose the laws or other public actions we want to follow. Both ideas were intended to prevent the chaos that comes when anything goes. Let’s see how we get from centuries old philosophy to current day practicality. More importantly, how we get ourselves to a more civil and respectful public discourse.
With due respect to our Greek friend, we wouldn’t have gotten very far as a country – one clearly built on his notion of the rule of law – without a little passion, make that a lot of passion. So, passion by itself isn’t necessarily the problem. Rather, we need to be careful that we don’t mistake passion for a free license to say whatever we want and do whatever we want when we disagree with a public policy decision. At the moment, there seems to be no better example of this than the school mask debate.
The point here isn’t to argue whether kids should or shouldn’t wear a mask – there’s plenty of other places to weigh the pros and cons of the matter. Instead, do a quick scan of recent articles on school board meetings, or social media posts, more generally, about masks in schools. No matter where you look, school administrators who want masks are Marxists, or worse. Parents who oppose masks are selfish fools, or worse. Of course, there are reasonable voices on both sides. The problem is they are being drowned out by those with a much more hostile tone. No matter where you stand on the issue, there’s at least one shared concern – making sure kids are healthy. And, at least one shared objective – to give kids the best education possible. That should be more than enough incentive to dial back the nastiness.
We all have a right to deeply-held opinions regardless of the issue. However, we must be careful that the depth of an opinion doesn’t crush civility in public debate and/or result in us flouting local policy decisions that we simply don’t like.