I don’t think it is a problem that people disagree on things. In fact, I think that is a good thing. If everyone in my life agreed with me on everything, I would live unchallenged. And as good as that initially sounds, it is antithetical to growth as a human being. I am not always right. I need people around me who love me enough to tell me so. The problem is that human beings circa 2020 disagree disagreeably. Most disagreeably.
The reality is many people don’t know how to have civil discourse concerning the things upon which they disagree. It is not always their fault.
Lots of folks are simply not equipped to have difficult discussions around important topics so they keep silent and rob the conversation of their voice. These very “nice” and often silent people may well be the majority but we have no metrics to measure them.
Others seem inclined to say publicly what they are “supposed” to say and privately hold to their own convictions. This may be why polls are increasingly failing.
Still others have been acculturated that being “right” (i.e. proving everyone else wrong) is the ultimate virtue so they busy themselves throwing round house punches (often from the safe distance of Social Media). We hear their voices too much and may incorrectly infer that they are the prevailing opinion based on volume alone.
None of this is serving us well. We have some real challenges in this world and we are going to have to all work together to address them.
Here are Some Potential Steps toward Civility:
- Build relationships We talk differently to people for whom we care (regardless of their positions). Perhaps we should discuss the names of our kids and grand kids before we discuss religion or politics. Differing opinions on important topics require withdrawals from emotional bank accounts. Relationships make deposits. When we are overdrawn, nothing good is going to happen
- Do no harm There is no reason to hurt people and things said in hurtful ways eradicate all possibility of honest and helpful conversation. I come across so many inciting posts these days and wonder, “What possible good can come out of that?”
- Show some respect People who think differently than we often have very different life experiences. Knowing that if you came from a different race or a different place, you may think differently than you do, is a good foundation upon which respect can be built.
- Converse to hear So often we enter discourse strictly to be heard. We can’t wait for the person talking to shut up so we can set them straight. This unhelpful dynamic is what the television news shows serve up twenty-four hours a day. Make your goal empathy and reject antipathy.
- Control your impulses Every stressed person in the world wants to say everything on their minds. Our hearts beat fast, adrenaline surges and we want to deliver a single knock-out punch to our opponent to end our discomfort. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Learn to associate high inner stress with silence.
- Be honest PC culture is a disaster. We all walk on eggshells. We lie with our silence. Telling people what you actually think and how you really feel is essential but we must do it with love.
- Have the Conversation The most powerful affirmation you can offer someone during the “heat of the moment” is to “stay in it” when they know most everyone else holding your position would have walked away. Staying at the table can be powerful: A non-anxious presence more powerful yet.
- Keep smiling I love to tell people, “I am an orthodox Christian but I’m not in a bad mood about it.” Why would you give your happiness away to someone simply because they cannot behave themselves?
- Remember the Golden Rule Don’t treat people like they treat you. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. You don’t “deserve” to be disrespected and others don’t either.
I am troubled by our lack of civility. It widens our rifts, intensifies the heat, dims the light, stifles creativity and keeps our wounds from healing.
A lack of civility pervades politics. It pervades families. It pervades the workplace. It pervades the places we worship. It pervades the internet. It pervades the places we drink coffee. It damages us. All of us.
Here is the deal: We do not all think alike. We do not all worship alike. We do not all vote alike. But we are very much alike. We all need faith, hope and love. We need community. We need purpose. And we all need to figure out how to get along with each other. Not agree; just get along.
Is civility a place we can get to from here?
I hope so.
Civility doesn’t make differences go away or make our detractors change their minds about us; but it is a hopeful path upon which authentic people who might think very differently can sojourn.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL since 1997.