On Civility and Politics

Some people have ideas and beliefs that differ from yours. Some of the things they believe and express conflict with what you hold to be fundamental truths. They speak what they believe to be good and right and beautiful, and what they believe is moral and correct, using some combination of facts and opinion to express their ideas. Because their views clash with yours, you can become defensive, emotional, and upset by their ideas. This clashing of conflicting ideas and beliefs works both ways, with others growing defensive, emotional, and argumentative when you speak.

In this, civility is lost.

In the United States, the two parties have worked very hard to create an environment where everything is political, and everything is framed to create a sense of “us versus them.” Each side encourages the idea that they are good, the other evil, with one group describing the other as “Nazis,” and the second group describing the first as “Communists.” (We should hope that neither of these things is true, as those two groups were responsible for something close to 100,000,000 lost souls, most of them their citizens).

Enabled by a press that works on a 24-hour news cycle and who benefits from attention, the willingness to divide us from each other has never been so great, and the tools never so powerful.

The social sites have been optimized to ensure that people spend time on the platform and that engagement results in a psychological reward, making it a cesspool of angry, nasty, foul political arguments, with zero civility, and no real attempt to talk about issues in any meaningful way. Mostly, the arguments are a war between memes and distortions. Over the last few years, there has been protests and marches that have ended in violence, as well as some very close calls. There have also been people shouted down and prevented from even expressing their beliefs.

Being angrier, louder, and more aggressive isn’t how you win an argument, nor is it how you change someone’s mind. It also isn’t a great way to resolve one’s differences.

Civility is needed now more than ever. Your civility and mine. It starts by believing that people with whom you disagree are not evil. Civility means hearing a person out, without interruption, and seeking to understand what they believe as truth and why they believe it. Civility requires you to exercise the decorum and self-control necessary to avoid responding emotionally (and in every case online, not to respond at all).

Do not allow the talking heads on political television to serve as the model for how you interact with people who disagree with you. Instead, exercise civility—even if others do not. Your example, and mine, matters.

Civility, yours and mine, is what is necessary to prevent us from turning on one another and instead seeking to find answers to the challenges that we face together now—and the greater challenges we will meet in the future.

If our political class cannot or will not serve as an example for us, then let us be an example for them.

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Filed under: Values

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