A columnist for the Dallas Morning News once wrote that Southern women think they can get away with saying just about anything about anybody if they preface criticism with “bless her (or his) heart.”
“Bless his heart, he’s about the dullest knife in the drawer.”
Check out for yourself whether you do it or not.
That got me to thinking that if Rush Limbaugh had said, “Bless her heart, she’s a slut and a prostitute,” of the poor woman testifying at the Congressional hearing on government financed birth control, he might not have gotten into half the trouble he did and lost, as of last week, 34 advertisers for his daily talk-rant on the radio.
We older folks tend to think that civility has been lost since we and our parents and grandparents were children. Our past as some of us remember it was a golden age of courtesy and gentleness, and important people concealed their differences — at least in public. Of course that wasn’t true; it’s just that there were no 24-hour cable news channels and talk-show hosts to report every misstep and malicious remark, no tweeting and twittering to dish the dirt mere minutes after it is flung.
In the mid-19th century, my great-grandparents didn’t have a Limbaugh or Chris Matthews to tell them — and discuss endlessly — the fact that, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks had caned Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner so badly that he couldn’t return to his duties for three years.
Earlier, things had been very dirty too during the presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson, who had married a women that his opponents claimed wasn’t legitimately divorced from her first husband. In 1804 Aaron Burr had mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel fueled by the New York governor’s race. Their feud had come to a head when Hamilton reportedly made some “despicable” remarks about his political rival.
George Washington, John Addams and Thomas Jefferson may have been the most truly civil top politicians we’ve had in this country; certainly Washington is known to this day for the “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior” he copied as an exercise in penmanship when a schoolboy of 16.
Compiled by French Jesuits in 1595, the rules address a lot of misbehavior common to the era such as spitting on the floor or blowing your nose on your sleeve at the table. (Did you know that the buttons on men’s coat sleeves, which seemingly serve no purpose, were put there to discourage the latter incivility?)
But the basic directive of the rules is this: “Treat everyone with respect.” Here’s one of them, No. 65: “Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest; scoff at none though they give occasion.“
If you do, not even blessing their hearts will make it right.
NolaVie columnist Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.