All too often in today’s political and social environment civility is sacrificed and instead polarization is the result. Our two great ideological tribes are in constant conflict. On the right, on-line dialogs go to mocking mainstream conservatives as not being willing to do what it takes to win. They mock those who will not engage in the same tactics as their left-wing brethren. It seems that many on the conservative side of the spectrum seem to lean towards “losing gracefully” instead of being seen as lacking in manners.
The leftist “social justice” activists scorn engagement and civil dialog as respectability politics. They instead favor shout downs, boycotts, on-line shaming and other unproductive methods to eliminate non-conforming dialogs.
There are important issues that need to be addressed. DACA for one is something that most American citizens agree on. We want this injustice righted. These people had no choice but to follow with their parents when they decided to cross the border, and they should not be held responsible for the actions of others. Even this issue is paralyzed in the depths of the politics of polarization. The Democrat party wants to hold onto this issue as a wedge narrative for the mid-term elections. The Republican Party wants to eliminate the issue altogether by offering amnesty covering three times the number covered by Obama’s executive order, but the Democrats in congress will not vote for the solution, not a single one of them.
The truth is that neither of these ideological tribes has the true answer to our issues. They both spin their arguments largely for self-aggrandizement and acquisition of power. There is no altruism in their hearts. The polarization has caused them to grow further apart, and we are in the middle, being fed their alternative realities and becoming more polarized and angry ourselves.
Is civility a virtue? Not always. There are times when one needs to stick to their principles. There is a time to be nice, and at times one needs to fight for what they believe to be right. Jesus, someone that most think was the nicest person on earth, cleansed the temple of Pharisees and money lenders with his whip. Even God has his limits.
There are cynical calls for civility all the time. Even though both sides of the coin seem to be tolerant of their most radical oppressors, they are completely repulsed by similar actions on the other side. It is a very cynical double standard. Those that criticize Michael Moore’s latest “documentary” are absolutely engaged in conservative radio and Fox News. Conversely, on the opposing side, love Michael Moore, the mainstream media, and cannot even consider making a case that Louis Farrakhan is worth condemning.
Civility calls are often very cynical. Every time there is a shooting, the left blames the result on conservatives, and calls for them to find civility and agree with them that the reason for the shooting was conservative politics. In fact, few if any of these shootings are the results of political ideology. On the other side of the coin, conservatives make a call for civility when the left aggressively goes after a social justice issue, saying that the behavior is untenable. This type of call for civility is exploitation rather than true lamentation.
Civility is not surrender. You do not have to surrender your values. Our moral obligations are both dependent on and independent from the listener’s response. Truth is the obligation of all of us in our discourse, even if it will make someone feel bad. No one should want to harm the other, that is not the goal. One has to realize that the act of persuasion may enrage an opponent.
There are 3 key elements to civil discourse:
1. Humility – Even though you believe you know the truth, you may not have the skill to communicate it succinctly. Don’t be self-righteous, it doesn’t work and will turn off your opponent. Express your ideas with conviction. Understand that your opponent may be brilliant and at the same time wrong and stand up for what you believe. Do so in a respectful manner that is not meant to hurt or enrage, even though that may be the end result.
2. A person of conviction is relentless in expressing their ideals. They are also flexible, and undeterred by threats and verbal abuse should listen to the opposing side and analyze their line of logic. Understand that facts trump emotion and be prepared for those that would accuse you of lying or hurting feelings. That is just not an intellectually honest argument that would be put forth.
3. Understand that everything is not a “national emergency” and should not be infuriating. Thoughtful concern is something that can win arguments, or at least tone down the opposing emotions.
If we treat each other respectfully, engage to listen more than to talk, and weigh each argument for what it is worth, we will be on our way to having a more civil discourse in our society. In fact, we can learn from each other and endeavor to find that vast grey area between our ideologies. When we get there, we can come together and move our society on to greater heights. If not, we do nothing but become more divided. If we are to work towards making our nation a better place for all to live, we need to work hard to get along respectfully.