Name-calling: the good ole boy
April 05, 2007
by David Burton--

What exactly is a "good ole boy" anyway?

I’ve heard the phrase “good ole boy” several times in my life. However, I probably have never heard it (on a radio talk show) and read it (in two local newspapers) more than I have over the course of the past two months in relation to leaders in a particular county of southwest Missouri.

The phrase can be found in movies, in song lyrics, on television shows, in blogs and in letters to the editor. The frequent use of this phrase, "good ole’ boy," made me wonder what exactly is accomplished by using it? What exactly is a "good ole boy?" And, why is it bad to be one?

A “good ole boy” is officially defined this way: “a white male Southerner with an unpretentious convivial manner and conservative or intolerant attitudes and a strong sense of fellowship with and loyalty to other members of his peer group.”

Wikipedia has a bit more on the topic of “good ole boys” but it approaches the topic as more of a social or cultural network that can be found worldwide and involves both genders.

Perhaps, the most authoritative article on this issue was printed in Time Magazine on Monday, Sept. 27, 1976. It was written by Bonnie Angela, a native of Winstom-Salem, NC. The article was simply entitled, “Those Good Ole Boys.”

Here is an edited excerpt:

Being a good ole boy is not a consequence of birth or breeding; it cuts across economic and social lines; it is a frame of mind based on the premise that life is nothing to get serious about. … Lightheartedness permeates the good ole boy's lifestyle. …

The core of the good ole boy's world is with his buddies, the comfortable, hyperhearty, all-male camaraderie, joshing and drinking and regaling one another with tales of assorted, exaggerated prowess. Women are outsiders…

Behind his devil-may-care lightheartedness, however, runs a strain of innate wisdom, an instinct about people and an unwavering loyalty that makes him the one friend you would turn to, not just because he's a drinking buddy who'll keep you laughing, but because, well, he's a good ole boy.

I have an additional concern about the use of this phrase that relates to deliberation. Public issues, concerns and disagreements can sometimes become heated. When that happens, some folks have a tendency to start name calling, something that never helps to speed up the resolution of an issue.

I think the interesting thing about the term is that it is often applied to "insiders" on an issue or in government by those who consider themselves "outsiders" to the process. In my experience as a news reporter covering government issues and meetings, many times those "outsiders" end up gaining power and then administering public government in much the same way as the "good ole boys" they criticized. Then soon enough, another group comes along complaining that the new “insiders” are good ole boys.

The phrase really does nothing to accurately describe most situations. That is certainly the case for the situation in the county government where it is currently being liberally applied. The phrase “good ole boys” often does not accurately portray the people it is applied to either except for the fact that the persons being labeled are white men.

One way to avoid this problem of name calling and labeling is to use the principles of public deliberation. Both sides of the issue should be brought together to develop solutions to problems in a mutually agreeable way. The process can be difficult but it can be a success, especially in situations where name calling is not tolerated.

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