We Are Still Only Human

Verlyn Klinkenborg

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I was raised to be polite, and I am polite, by default. I have learned to depend on my politeness and to hate it, because it so often feels like a hand clutching my windpipe. The politeness that afflicts me is not civility, which is an urbane quality compatible even with cynicism. To be polite in the manner of my Midwestern upbringing is to believe that humans should be judged not by their deeds but by their best intentions. And so I grew up believing in a polite past, the untainted progress of decent men and women tilling a ripe but virgin soil, building stainless, heroic cities. I was taught to imagine a polite future, too: a universal Iowa of the 1950s, but with more efficient appliances and extra longevity and even nicer people. There are worse imaginable futures, and they are all more probable...

This essay was reprinted by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.