The Case for Civility and the Search for Common Good
July 31, 2020
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration -
I have recently been hearing rants to the effect that these are days in which too much is at stake to be civil. We must be forceful, confrontational, and prophetic.
I have heard other calls for a return to decency, respect, and civility in public discourse. That, of course, assumes that it was ever a widespread commitment among political practitioners.
It has been so in the public eye, but not everything meets the eye.
Also, there was the small matter of the Civil War.
It is hard for a guy who has been barking up the civility tree for years to snarl at any movement toward disagreeing without being disagreeable.
I cut my teeth on such adages as "You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar."
I learned those lessons, believe them, and practice them as much as possible. Losing friends to win arguments has never had much value to me because the win is merely an arbitrary point count and no one has been convinced, convicted, or converted to a different point of view.
The question might be whether or not civil behavior promotes thoughtful dialogue. Further, does thoughtful dialogue promote good thinking and even better decisions?
We can be more forceful speaking to each other within a tight nit group of like-thinkers, but that does not affect change.
We can avoid subjects that are uncomfortable with people who hold opposite viewpoints and that is equally unproductive in promoting understanding or shedding light on a subject.
That leaves us with respect, and courtesy - values that always assumed were conservative and old fashioned, yet liberal at the same time. Ideas and press coverage should always strike a balance of sorts. We need a conservative and skeptical approach to wackiness. We need a liberal approach to considering a broad spectrum of ideas.
But not all ideas are equal. And not all ideas deserve equal respect. People deserve equal respect. So do their rights to express weak, ill-considered, poorly reasoned ideas.
Disputed and disputable matters may not exist within the territory of any political or religious persuasion - but certainly ought to exist within the framework of the message of Jesus, my bias and commitment. Love of neighbor remains the driving force and rationale of our thought formation in the political arena.
Civility is a move in the right direction -even if our motives are not fine-tuned to the A-440 of truth's tuning fork. Sometimes just acting the right way - even for the wrong reasons - can teach our brains new tricks.
This season will take a lot of courage to go against people whose respect we crave to stand up for our convictions. It will take patience to out up with people saying things we deem to be ridiculous and ill-informed. It will, mostly, take love, to keep us on track and define, in our minds, what it truly means to win.
For the foreseeable future, we are going to be living in a divided and contentious country, and world.
We are going to have to figure out how to get along in such a world and work with our neighbors to solve problems for the common good.
And there is a start ... if we can agree to agree on a search for the common good.