Baby steps, America. The 'but so-and-so did it first!' defense is for toddlers, not national discourse

I’m not sure if we Americans were happier to ring in the New Year or wring the neck of the old one. Either way, 2018 is here bearing the familiar heady promise of fresh beginnings. If only the blank slate that encourages us to embark on our personal do-overs would beckon us to rethink the state of our national discourse.

As it is, we’ve largely abandoned our proverbial water coolers where adult conversations had at least the potential of bringing about change, in favor of flying fingers launching verbal attacks from the safety of our glowing bunker screens.

Yesterday, I shared a social media tip for 2018.  It was my effort at creating one of those popular memes and it featured the snarling image of an angry dog, and the ageless wisdom of Proverbs 26:17. “Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is he who rushes into a quarrel not his own.” I’d love to see that idea go viral, but sadly, we’re all too eager to stake a position in the day’s trending battle, whatever it may be. Sigh.

I suppose it’s unrealistic to expect a national kumbaya moment anytime soon, but we sorely need to start somewhere and since we’ve taken to acting like toddlers, I’d like to propose the type of discourse do-over I designed years ago for my own offspring. Baby steps, America.

When my kids were little we had a standard rule for sibling conflicts. It was all about taking responsibility for your own actions and reactions. Simply put, no one was allowed to employ the infamous Butt Defense.

The "Butt Defense" is the fallback to every political discussion I watch or listen to and it keeps us mired in the mess we’re all convinced the other folks started.

Granted, I didn’t call it the Butt Defense back in the day. That name materialized on the spot in that last sentence and I left it because, well, it’s just so fitting. The Butt Defense never advanced a child’s cause in this house and it usually came back to bite the instigator on his or her backside.

Strangely enough, my kids didn’t have to be taught to use the Butt Defense. It came naturally out of their own desire to defend themselves and promote their own interests.

“Yes’m, I did hit/slap/pinch him, but he hit/slapped/pinched me first.”  

“Yes’m, I did call her a ______________but she called me a ________first.”  (You fill in the blanks.)

In my role as sitting judge, I would overrule the Butt Defense faster than quick. Anyone using it was promptly reminded that I wasn’t talking about what his or her sibling had said or done. I wanted the child I was addressing to understand what the correct response should have been to the situation and what they could do differently in the future. Banning the Butt Defense helped us all move forward.

If only we could ban the Butt Defense in our national conversation. Sadly, it’s the fallback to every political discussion I watch or listen to and it keeps us mired in the mess we’re all convinced the other folks started.

For every person worried about the dangerous lack of civility in our politics and sincerely asking what we can do about it in the coming year, the answer lies within our reach. We can start by refusing to defend what should be indefensible. We can call a hateful or atrocious action what it is without giving that person or voice any “cover” in our own circle by employing the Butt Defense.

Doing so would be a start towards ostracizing the extreme elements on all sides and diminishing their impact. Anything less will keep coming back to bite us all in the backsides. Happy New Year!

Due to an editing error the original citation of Proverbs in this cited the wrong verse. The correct verse is Proverbs 26:17 not 16:7.

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is a popular storytelling humorist and the host of the radio talk show, ATS LIVE! She and her husband live and farm in northeast Louisiana. Her latest release, Devotions for the Hungry Heart is in bookstores now!  For more information, visit Shellie at