Civility


19 July 2019

Recent events emanating from Washington DC compel me to reflect and write about how we treat one another in political discourse. I am not writing about politics but about virtue and public morality.

What were once episodes of ugly verbal abuse are now evolving into a plague of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. A fierce polarization is creating deep divisions. Civility is being replaced by adolescent-type bullying and public denigration of anyone who challenges and questions the administration. There is nothing Christian about such behavior and it creates a threateningly inhumane cultural environment.

Civility means much more than politeness, although politeness is indeed an important first step. Civility is about interpersonal respect and seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences. It is about moving beyond preconceptions and listening to the other and encouraging others to do the same.

Civility is hard work because it means staying present to people with whom one can have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. Civility means collaborating for the common good. It is about negotiating interpersonal power in such a way that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s voice is ignored. Civility means that despite different perspectives we still have a shared vision and collaborate to make it a reality.

When civility is replaced by mockery, dishonest accusations, and abusive slogans, people become monsters. History amply demonstrates that monsters create more monsters. History also reminds us that such a scenario never has a happy ending.

The message this week is small. The task awaiting us is enormous. Civility begins with you and me, with family and friends, with neighbors and colleagues, etc. We gradually construct what I like to call coalitions of transformation: communities of faith, hope, and support.

At the end of this week, we all should reflect on the message in Luke 10:25-37: On one occasion an expert in the law, who wanted to justify himself, stood up to test Jesus and so he asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?”

Take care.

Jack

9 thoughts on “Civility

  1. Sincerely appreciate your insight and wisdom relative to historical religiosity, but curious here as both narratives appear to be from a defined point of view and would appear to cut both ways. Seems like these office-holders on all sides want to immunize themselves from any criticism…I’m a huge fan yours; you maintain straight A’s as a great teacher! 👍

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Thank you, Jack, for fleshing out more fully the meaning of civility. It is the bedrock for living in a democracy; without it, democracy won’t work. The president sets the tone for discussion in a country and he has released an evil genie of hate. Yesterday the Indianapolis Star printed 8 opinions from its readers, but only one mimicked Trump. Another one of the eight was a self-identified Republican decrying the abominable rhetoric and hate of the president.

  3. Dear Jack,
    Isn’t it interesting that your thoughts on civility coincide with the time when we commemorate the day when humans landed on the moon, an event that required extreme collaboration. But, more importantly, it came from a shared vision inspired by a leader who asked us to do the impossible because he raised our vision to higher, lofty, and noble goals. We come from people who thought of themselves as achievers and collaborators. To do the difficult, you have to work together, respect your partners, and view the goal ahead with a single, united purpose. Will we ever return to those days of high expectation and mutual respect?
    Peace,
    Frank

  4. Jack,
    You have been so on target in our recent observations about the political situation here in the U.S. We seem so far from the Gospel message, not only in our discourse, but in our treatment of our “neighbors,” whether they be our political rivals or our asylum seekers at the border. Dehumanizing language leads to dehumanizing treatment. We have no further to look than our southern border and the conditions of detention, and worse the denial of asylum. I often wondered if it were possible that we might experience the transformation which history witnessed in the Germany of 1928-1944. Sady we have the beginnings of the answer. Folks ar becoming desensitized to inhumanity, like the proverbial frog placed in tepid water with the stove turned up, which takes no notice until it is too late.

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