By Tara Bitzan, executive director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

It’s nothing new that in the final weeks leading up to a major election tempers flare, patience dwindles and examples of “nice” are difficult to come by, even in the state of Minnesota where we used to be known for being nice.

“Used to be” are the key words in that sentence, as it is becoming rare to hear others refer to us as “Minnesota Nice” anymore.

We, like so many others across our nation, are becoming more disrespectful to one another as time passes. Examples of this can be found everywhere – at home, in the workplace, in public places, in person, on the phone, through social media, between family members, coworkers, friends, enemies, neighbors….

When did we become such a disrespectful and entitled society?

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There has always been crime, people who made poor choices, and people who were unkind or disrespectful.

But we have now moved into a time when many people think they have the “right” to vandalize property in order to make a statement, that they are “entitled” to degrade other people verbally or through social media, that they don’t “owe” anyone anything, including respect.

The phrase, “I have the right to (fill in the blank)” is heard frequently in a variety of contexts.

People have always had differences, disagreements, biases, or dislike for others. That will never go away.

In many ways, today’s society is more accepting than ever before of differences in religion, race, sexual preferences. Yet, overall, we are more vocal, judgmental, condemning, and disrespectful than ever before.

Classes on respect and kindness should be made mandatory at schools, in workplaces, in all levels of government service. Codes of conduct should be created and followed and enforced and celebrated.

This should be done for people of all ages, all backgrounds, all levels of employment, all walks of life.

We can’t fall back on such archaic statements as, “young people are so disrespectful,” or “adults deserve respect… the boss deserves respect… teachers, parents, law enforcement officers, government officials…”

EVERYONE deserves respect and everyone deserves kindness – even when they don’t.

What I mean is that sometimes people have wronged you so terribly you don’t feel you can be kind or treat them with respect. In those cases, the respectful thing to do is to walk away, close the door, end the relationship – but don’t become vulgar, hateful or revengeful in the process. It will do no good.

In milder cases, just set some boundaries. If you and a friend always ending up arguing when you talk politics, agree to not talk politics with each other. If a family member’s Facebook page always gets you riled, unfollow or unfriend them. If your neighbor’s political sign bothers you, focus on the other side of the street every time you drive by or go a different direction.

But please, don’t tell your friend they are an idiot because of their political views, don’t criticize your family member in the comment section on their posts on their Facebook page, and don’t sneak out in the middle of the night and set your neighbor’s sign on fire.

In my role as director of the local Chamber of Commerce, there are a lot of things I want Alexandria to be known for – memorable vacations, quality of life, a healthy economy, business opportunity, safety, low crime rates, quality educational opportunities, state-of-the-art healthcare…

But what I would value most is for Alexandria to be known as a place where the people are simply respectful and kind.

Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.