I dealt with a lot of contentiousness yesterday. People just seem to be quicker with their jabs at one another these days. One of our World Racers had so many rude comments from antagonistic readers that we had to take her comment section down. Maybe we take our cues from our mud-slinging politicians.
Doug Holladay, a missionary in that most Machiavellian of cities, Washington D.C., wrote the following about civility. We need more of it in this rude and abrasive world of ours.
In Stephen Carter’s book, Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy, he defines civility as “the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together.” He goes on to say that civility is a “signal of respect for our fellow citizens, marking them as full equals, both before the law and before God.”
When we are rude and hateful we diminish others. Isn’t it still possible to challenge another person’s ideas, yet treat them civilly and lovingly? I recall that my tutor at Oxford, Dr. John Walsh, would regularly rip my thesis and writings apart and yet invite me for a lager at the pub to laugh and carry on. ‘Nothing personal’ was his scathing critique.
I recall him lamenting that American students at Oxford take criticism of their work as though it were a very personal attack upon them. In the 60’s, scholar Marshall McLuhan coined the term “the medium is the message.”
Today, the message and the messenger are considered inseparable. We attempt to destroy the messenger if we can’t beat the argument. Unfortunately, using negative politics works. There is very little substance in today’s highly charged political campaigns. Yet if I can hang something on my opponent-without regard to whether true or not, I win. How sad.
The bar keeps being lowered and lowered and lowered. Aggression seems in vogue. And the excessive and abusive speech in politics particularly, feeds on itself and demands greater and greater put-downs to be noticed.
So where is the hope? After 9/11, I started an organization with Muslim scholar and diplomat, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, called The Buxton Initiative. The intent is to bring Muslims, Jews and Christians around a table to engage in important civil dialogue concerning issues that truly matter to them in our ever-changing world.
The bedrock of this effort is civility, but not capitulation. In other words, we truly believe that differences make a difference. It is dishonest to pretend that we all agree, so we still argue our positions and worldviews vociferously, we just avoid doing so in a hateful manner. The result has been pretty amazing. Take a look at the link www.buxtoninitiative.org. Also check out the article that Akbar and I penned several years back at the inception of Buxton.
So my suggestion to you is, let’s celebrate civility and genuine care for others. Let’s not join the legions of polarized parties and groups who vilify those with whom they disagree. Let’s journey together to discover the olden way, the way of civility.