Kelli Wegener: We need to respect each other again

In the past four or five years, something has changed in our society, respect for others just isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. It seems some individuals think their opinion is the only correct one, and it now is all-too-common to see retaliation from those with opposing viewpoints using disrespectful words or even actions. Just because someone has a different opinion, especially concerning political topics, doesn’t make one side or the other a bad person or the enemy.

Statistics show there has been a significant increase in confrontations on airplanes, in stores and even during council or board meetings. There are local news stories about crowds yelling threats or obscenities at school board members or citizens who state their opinions during a meeting. Many are harassed or interrupted while walking to their car. I read about the Prairie Grove Board members who received death threats following a zoning dispute because it turned into a political fight. There is a popular cable personality calling on his viewers to confront people who are wearing masks.

How did we get to this point? No one should be fearful to state an opinion, vote in a certain way or wear a mask to protect their health.

Why are some people so threatened by an opposing opinion that they feel the need to disparage or attack others? It’s no coincidence these incidents have risen with the increase in popularity of polarizing news stations and social media. Partisanship has become so prevalent in our politics that some community and government leaders refuse to work with or even talk to the “other side.” As a McHenry County Board member, I’ve seen the hate spewed during public comment at board meetings. I’ve also received emails, phone calls, read social media and blog posts containing threats, as well as insults, because I disagree with an individual or group. I may not agree with some of my fellow County Board members’ opinions, but in order to get things done and to do what’s best for everyone, we need to respect each other’s opinions and work together.

Maybe we need to take the time to listen to each other objectively instead of focusing on how much we “dislike/hate” the other person. We may “dislike/hate” their opinion, but we still should be able to treat each other respectfully and have a civil conversation or debate.

We need to stop thinking it’s “us against them.” It’s OK to be passionate, but it’s not OK to make someone feel threatened. It seems that in today’s society, in order to get the results we want, it’s acceptable to do almost anything. The “means justifies the end” mentality is only dividing us and teaching our children the wrong message. Is it moral or good for our society when winning is more important than working together?

Our children are watching us. I call upon all of our community leaders to lead by example – to model “love your neighbor as yourself,” as we were taught at an early age in Sunday school. We need to respect each other and our differing opinions. We may not get everything we want, but it is in society’s best interest that we work together for the common good.

• Kelli Wegener is a McHenry County Board member.