Are You Civil?


Who are you rooting for in the upcoming presidential election? Well, don’t tell me, at least, not in this forum. And I’m not going to tell you here, either.

But I can tell you this…I’ve eliminated a number of names from my list just because of their lack of civility. I know, politics is nasty and all of them, or at least their campaigns, eventually feel the need to go negative. But I long for true statesmen. Men and women of integrity who debate the issues, point out policy and intellectual flaws in their opponent’s arguments but without resorting to character and personal assassinations. Quite frankly, there are a number of candidates who I probably agree with most of their stated political positions, but I will not support or vote for because of their slimy campaigns.

I was actually touched by an article I read (and posted on FaceBook) that described the friendship of recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They were on absolute opposite sides of the spectrum on almost every controversial issue before the court, but referred to themselves as “best buds.” About Ginsburg, Scalia recently said, “What’s not to like? Except her views on the law.” That made me laugh, especially after I learned that their families would spend almost every holiday together, vacation together, they talked almost daily and praised one another in private and public. In her memorial of Scalia, Ginsburg shared how their disagreements in court helped her see her own erroneous ways of thinking. The story was a breath of fresh air. Mainly because civility in public discourse has almost been completely lost.

But it’s not just in the world of politics where we’ve lost a sense of courtesy and grace with those we disagree.

This is certainly true online. I’ve ended many FB friendships because of impudent, disrespectful and sometimes vulgar rants. I’ve even unfriended FB connections due to their impertinent treatment of opinions (theirs and others) online.

And it’s not that I don’t love a good debate. I actually like to argue…if done with humility, mutual respect and common decency. When you have to resort to anger, name-calling, or vulgar language, it doesn’t matter how right you are, you are wrong, and you lose.

You see, the real reason for a good debate is to arrive at truth. That ought to be your goal. You’re not going to arrive at truth if you are unwilling to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you might be a little bit wrong about what you are arguing for. This is where humility comes in. Maybe your husband has a good point. Maybe your coworker is seeing something you are not. It’s pride that gets in the way of our own personal growth because our pride keeps us from considering the possibility that we might have erroneous thinking about a matter. And that same pride propels us to forcibly argue our position and resort to anger, name-calling, character assassinations and personal insults in order to win. Because when you are filled with pride, all that matters is that you win. You aren’t interested in learning truth, not really. That takes humility. The humility to know that you might have something to learn.

Pride only seeks to win. Humility seeks to learn and grow.

So, how do you engage in debates and disagreements? Don’t be a coward and run away. Have the courage to engage, when necessary. But do so with humility (recognize that you might be wrong), courtesy, and civility. Remember Paul’s call to all followers of Jesus, “Do everything with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14 NLT).

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