Civility Matters

Civility. That is the word I’m adopting as my word of the year for 2022. I ended 2021 with a lovely visit with family in a small town in Nebraska. We attended Christmas Eve and Sunday the 26th worship where my son-in-law is serving as their new pastor and his first call. We ate in local restaurants, visited the Prairie Museum, and shopped in local stores. We toured a factory where my family’s next-door neighbor worked for decades until his recent retirement. The factory makes pre-fab homes that are moved in two or more sections to permanent foundations. It was fascinating.

We stayed at a Best Western about 20 miles away because the family ran out of beds with the arrival of all three YA grandchildren. The whole experience was a great way to end what has been a rather problematic year. There were many high points, but among them were these:

  • Everywhere we went, people smiled and bantered with one another, all with good humor. People looked wholesome, happy, and healthy. Lots of smiles. Very few frowns.
  • Some wore masks. Some did not. All were respectful of one another’s choices.
  • People kept showering the new pastor with “thank you” goodies that we all got to enjoy.
  • We saw more cows and tractors than cars and trucks.

It was all civil and pleasant. It did much to rekindle my faith in humanity. I’m adopting “civility” as my word of the year, as a reminder that such situations still exist.

Taking Charge of the Response

It’s too early to know if 2022 will be better, more of the same, or worse in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic that has now taken over 800,000 lives in this country and around 5 million globally. Given it’s a mid-term election year, I suspect the political wrangling, disinformation campaigns, and personal verbal character attacks will escalate. There’s little I can do about either of these scenarios.

However, I can and do choose to be civil rather than cantankerous in my dealings with those with whom I disagree. “Civility” is the word of the year for me. The rest of today’s blog is taken from a Christmas letter from a dear friend and long-time mentor. He gave me permission to repost some of it, but said he did not want credit for it.

Thoughts From My Anonymous Friend

When life as I see it begins to overflow with a craziness I can’t comprehend, a defense I’ve hit upon is simply to push back at what I experience as crazy-making. Overall, I’m wanting to safe-guard the country I love, while remaining as honest as I can be about what I see as a critical danger all about. I’M MISSING CIVILITY! I believe civility to be essential for healthy communal well-being. I’m trying for both truth-telling and thoughtfulness.

Who of us is not disturbed, dismayed, and even, frankly, fearful about the repeated violations of basic civility in so many institutions that make up our society? I’ve read and heard enough to know that I’m not alone in my dismay that seems to necessitate this expression of discouragement and even alarm.

What Does It Mean to Be Civil?

Civility is listening, valuing, and respecting others by attempting to assure the other that they are being heard and respected with the intent of a better outcome for both. Respect requires openness to diversity and thinking through what you are hearing. Respect implies your own need for more background and reflection on some of the issues under discussion. Especially, be slow to identify another person as a political or social enemy.

Civility does not mean agreement. However, it can provide motivation to continue working together toward compromised ends. We can survive divisions if they are handled with civility and respect. Does it not make sense to believe that we can disagree more constructively? All of us have the power and even a calling to press for improvements – even transformations – in our shared communal life. Recognize that rude speech and deprecating one another seldom nets a long-term profit. Getting sucked into tribal parties or communities can end up being both binding and blinding, It binds us into ideological teams that fight with each other and blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say, and sometimes, something to hide.

Choose Candidates Wisely

When America becomes stranger, our culture becomes stranger, and our politicians become stranger, too. As power increases, so do the stakes. When parties and primary voters pick their candidates this year, they will judge them in terms of various categories: likability, local support, money and the ability to raise money, and stances on the issues. We now have to include another category, an important baseline question: Is this candidate fully sane? Is this candidate the kind of person who will be destabilized or further destabilized by the acquisition of new power? Can we trust that we will hear truth and thoughtfulness from this candidate? If a candidate fails to pass such a test, select another one. Keep praying that greater civility mounts a new offensive.

Back to My Own Thoughts

Life never has been fair, nor void of conflicts and scoundrels who cheat, steal, and bald-faced lie to get what they want. What worries me most about what I’ve observed in the past few years is the ramped-up public misinformation campaigns. This, combined with the gullibility of people who naïvely follow public personality figures without bothering to fact-check their claims, has led us to the worse societal divide I’ve witnessed in my many decades on the planet. Too many of us are too quick to overlook appalling behavior from those on “our” side and too slow to acknowledge any good accomplishments from those on the “wrong” side.

It’s a fresh year. Let’s all take a collective deep breath, forgive the transgression of the year now past, and minimally choose to treat one another with civility. Welcome, 2022. Welcome.

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  1. Good word, Kathryn! I think in most instances, people are civil in their everyday interactions. But the prevalence of television coverage and social media has publicized misbehavior until it has become normal, accepted. It’s also a direct consequence of a nation that has turned its back on God. Why be civil when you yourself are the final authority?

    Enjoyed your thoughts.

  2. I agree. Most of us want civility; but the media tends to focus on the conflicts more than the cooperation among us.

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