The lead article written by Tom Seward from Front Page Magazine today begins the discussion on acceptable dissent verses treason. This has been one of those avoidance issues in our society for the last 142 years. When does dissent become treason? Treason is defined as “betrayal of country, the violation of the allegiance owed by a person to his or her own country, for example, by aiding an enemy.” Back during the Civil War, Lincoln took the hard stand and drew the line on acceptable public discourse. As years and generations have come and gone, the brave and necessary actions of Lincoln seem so distant, so shocking to a society today that has replaced the First Commandment with the First Amendment. Yet, it does not take a genius to see where this is taking us.
In my experience within a traditional manufacturing environment I have seen first hand the “anything goes” culture. In such a culture, there are no clear standards of acceptable behavior. No one has the courage to lay down the law on what makes a behavior acceptable and what behavior will not be tolerated. An environment like this is frustrating, confusing, hostile and unpredictable. And, the behavior in a culture like this NEVER just gets better on its own, it always declines.
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I have also seen work environments where boundaries are set and reinforced on “what is” and “what is not” acceptable behavior. If the boundaries are consistently enforced, I have seen a culture where individuals feel safe, are more open, and are less hostile. More individuals participate. Disagreements occur without the threat of violence.
So as we move further away from the actions of Lincoln in the years to come. Expect the dissent to be more ruthless and despicable. I thought the acts of Micheal Moore during the current Iraq War and Jane Fonda and John Kerry during Vietnam were disgraceful. But, until a clear boundary is set, we can expect this kind of behavior to escalate in the future.
Our adult society is not so different than a typical adult-child relationship at times. How many of us would let a 3-year old rant and scream and berate us in public without at least letting the child know that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Yet, in our adult society the “behavior of dissent” has not been adequately defined, discussed and enforced. Therefore, we are seeing bold and frightening dissent from segments of our society. We will however, have to eventually proceed through some tough discussion and action. We will have to define boundaries and enforce them consistently if we wish for a more contented society.