We love letters to the editor.
We think the letters page of a local newspaper serves a vital role in the community. At its best, such a page serves as a forum for a respectful and thoughtful exchange of opinions on topics of the day.
We work hard to keep our letters page this way.
We publish most of the letters we receive. We want this page to reflect the community, not to reflect the agenda of the publisher or editor or anyone else.
However, we insist on civility and respect in letters. These qualities have become vanishingly rare in our public discourse.
Some people openly mock the idea of civility and respect. They are so sure they are right about everything and those who disagree with them are wrong, even evil, they discard any pretense of respect.
Back in September, we received a letter from a writer who told of how, in certain medieval religious debates, no one could participate “unless they could first articulate the position of their opponent fairly and accurately.”
How many of us even make an effort to understand the position of those we disagree with, let alone show we can state it?
As the presidential race and other political campaigns heat up, we expect the problem to grow worse. We expect a particularly nasty and vicious campaign season this year.
When someone writes a letter to the editor and we do not accept it, we generally send a brief note to explain and invite the writer to revise the letter.
We do not have a long list of words you can or cannot use, but use the principles of civility and respect to guide our judgment of letters.
We know this may seem vague, so we want to share some examples of what is and is not acceptable in the weeks ahead, as we encounter them.
This week, at least three writers questioned the mental health of those they disagree with: Democrats in one case and the president in two others. Using words like “deranged” and “insane” to describe those you disagree with shows a lack of interest in civil and respectful dialogue.
Every letter is a judgment call and, as humans, we do not always make the correct judgment. But we ask you to join us in our sincere efforts to cultivate civil and respectful dialogue.