Holiday Season 2015 – Making Things Better, Not Worse

 “…you can prove that you’re a Christian.
You can’t prove it, then, you know, you err on the side of caution.” ~ Governor Jeb Bush, 2015

“…calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States…” ~ Candidate Donald Trump, 2015

“…I don’t think orphans under five…should be admitted into the United States at this point.” ~ Governor Chris Christie, 2015

U.S. Presidential Candidates


The news is not good these days for those of us who teach etiquette to students and professionals. You can’t pick up a newspaper, watch the news on TV or go online without reading or hearing the maelstrom of incivility aimed at certain ethnic and religious groups.

And that’s in addition to the overall tone of discourtesy and lack of respect and general atmosphere of unprofessionalism displayed by some of the current Presidential candidates in this primary season.  I think they need a dose of the Three E’s!

Prior to devoting myself to my current vocation of business etiquette consultant, trainer and blogger I spent four decades in the corporate workplace. Over the years I watched the evolution of a mostly white and male workforce population to a changing tapestry that included women, people of color from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, members of the LGBT community, military veterans of wars and conflicts and people with disabilities. Along the way there were push-backs and backlashes by those who were slow to accept the emergence of these populations as well as the laws and public policies that were enacted to protect and promote their advancement.

As the workplace changed so did life in general. Communities, the military, government, schools and campuses across America have reflected this changing tapestry. A milestone in this evolution was the election of a U.S. President of color — something not thought to be possible just a few decades ago.

Today as our nation continues to evolve, some are having difficulty accepting the changing social and political landscape. Sadly, that lack of acceptance of those who look, act, speak, dress and worship differently is prompting an alarming escalation of discrimination.

Across America — which was founded on the principles of “liberty and justice for all, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” “free exercise” of one’s religion and never being “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law” — we are seeing an unseemly and misguided backlash against certain groups of people because of their citizenship status, religion, sexual orientation or political positions. In the past few months civility — as well as decency — seems to have been turned on its ear.

The first wave of such incivility was aimed at undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America with the declaration that the millions who reside in the U.S. should be summarily rounded up and deported, — regardless of whether they have established deep roots in their neighborhoods, raised families, improved their local economies and are otherwise law-abiding. Some loudly proclaim that they are to be banished without proper consideration of their children, communities, workplaces and contributions to their communities. Not only is that approach constitutionally questionable but it would be a logistical nightmare, economic catastrophe and possible threat to national security. Yet, some have suggested taking even further action to amend the Constitution in order to deprive immigrants’ children who are born here their automatic U.S. citizenship. This is a classic case of going completely overboard in targeting a particular group as a scapegoat for a particular society’s ills and complaints.

More recent hostilities have been aimed toward Muslims because their religion, Islam, is being conflated with the propaganda of some radical terrorist groups. Tragically, certain political figures and members of the media are whipping up a lethal cocktail of confusion, misunderstanding and panic, thereby clouding good judgment and reason. Some of the proposals by Presidential candidates are jaw-dropping and completely counter to both the spirit and laws of America.

It is understandable that as a nation we have become freshly focused on terrorism and fear in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks. I can empathize because I watched the horror of the September 11 attacks unfold from my office building a few blocks away and coped for years with the stressful aftermath that enveloped my city, work neighborhood and coworkers.

Thus, in light of the rhetoric of the past few months I advocate placing recent events and our concerns into perspective by reflecting on the following:

  • Muslims in America number approximately two percent to less than one percent of the total U.S. population, depending on which survey you read; for example, PEW Research Center reports fewer than three million and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports about 7 million.
  • The Majority of Muslims in America are naturalized U.S. citizens, with about one-third born in America.
  • The Public Religion Research Institute found that people are less likely to believe that a terrorist who identifies himself as a Christian really holds Christian beliefs and values, whereas they are more likely to believe that a terrorist who identifies himself as a Muslim does indeed hold Islamic beliefs and values.
  • Terrorist Attacks on Americans Vs. Other Gun Violence stands in stark contrast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that during the period 2001-2013, 406,496 people died from firearms in the U.S. (including homicides, suicides and accidents). In contrast, according to CNN, during the same period 3,030 people were killed in terrorist attacks in the U.S. (including the September 11 attacks). And according to the State Department, 350 U.S. citizens were killed in terrorist attacks outside the U.S.
  • Prominent American Muslims include former NBA basketball stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal; former boxing champion Muhammad Ali; entertainers Janet Jackson and Jermaine Jacksun; cardiologist and TV personality Dr. Oz; actor, comedian and Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi; and Congressmen Keith Ellison (Minnesota) and André Carson (Indiana).
  • Deporting all undocumented immigrants has Constitutional as well as economic and human rights issues. The cost of deporting nearly 12 million people would be prohibitive and the loss in billions of dollars in tax revenues would add to the financial pain that everyone would absorb.
  • It is unconstitutional, based on religion, to prohibit people from entering the U.S. as a tourist, immigrant or business traveler; to an American citizen who is bringing home a foreign-born spouse; or to deny reentry into the country to U.S. citizens when they leave to visit other countries for business, pleasure or family matters.

Terrorist activities are nothing new to the U.S. Such tactics have been used throughout history to intimidate governments and citizens to effect or accept change, whether religious, political or ideological. As well, bigotry and fear have prompted the formation of groups that have waged terror and violence in the name of religion on individuals and organizations; in the U.S., the Ku Klux Klan, a white Christian terrorist organization, comes to mind. And during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, in addition to the peaceful demonstrators for change domestic radical groups regularly vandalized, bombed and shot their way to notoriety in order to push their agendas. As a young American in the 1960s I experienced close calls inside and outside my country, and during the 1970s the office buildings where I worked were regularly evacuated due to hoax bomb threats.

This is not to downplay the dangers we face today. Wherever we are we need to be alert to modern forms of terrorism by jihadi extremists from other countries, and the fact that they are actively recruiting young people from America as well as nations around the world. We are all familiar by now with the if-you-see-something-say-something approach. But we should balance such concerns against other urgent issues that can and do impact our lives as well, and take great care that our concerns and fears do not progress to paranoia and rash actions.

Defeating terrorism is achieved not only by military actions but also through diplomacy, sanctions and the words and deeds of ordinary citizens. Letting reason, inclusion and kindness — along with integrity, confidence, firmness and appropriateness — flow through our in-person and on-line behavior can help to win hearts and minds and foil terrorist propaganda and progress.

Our peace has been shattered this holiday season by terrorist attacks on our soil and on our ally, France, and our sister city of Paris. And this is not the first time tragedy has struck at a time of year that is supposed to be peaceful and festive, going all the way back to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 — a day President Roosevelt said would live in infamy. And yesterday marked the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders of 27 young schoolchildren and adults by a lone and apparently deeply disturbed gunman.

The answer to such adversity is not to tear each other apart but to come together in support of our fellow citizens and global allies. All Americans should educate themselves on the facts and engage in a healthy and productive public debate on the issues and all possible solutions while avoiding personal attacks on those with whom there might be some disagreement.

I am reminded of the words of Humphrey Bogart’s character, Charlie Allnut, in the fabulous classic film, The African Queen: “Things are never so bad that they can’t be made worse.” So, whether you’re in school, on campus, at home or at work this holiday season, let’s all strive to make things better!

Until next time,




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