Thursday, January 13, 2011

To Find Civility, Be Civilized

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately about civility and civil discourse.

Most of the reaction to it sounds like this famous clip from “Network”:

Copyrighted by Turner Inc. Used here under the Fair Use Doctrine for commentary purposes.

Because, frankly, most folks are reacting to who is giving the message on civility, rather than the message itself. Find a Republican asking for civility and you happen to be a Democrat, well, then the Republican call for civility is shallow political posturing. And vice versa.

Howard Beale isn’t sure what to do in this little clip. He’s not sure what to have you write your Congressman about. Rather than find something to do, he just shouts into the darkness, and encourages his listeners to do so as well, which they do in spades.

It’s stupid advice. And a stupid, gutless reaction to solving what ails a society that really isn’t all that uncivil, once you turn off the television and the radio and stop listening to all the talking heads advising us to be civil while behaving uncivilly towards whomever is of the opposite political stripe who also happens to be calling for civility.

So what am I going to do about it, rather than shout into the darkness of the Internet, with an inane and useless blog posting?

I’m going to follow a bit of ancient advice:

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

That is, for those who don’t know, from the Biblical book of Proverbs, Chapter 15, Verse 1.

We don’t need to shout into the darkness about our anger. We need to do something about our anger. And we need to use soft words to do it.

I’m going to stop accentuating the negative, and that includes sarcasm. Instead, I’m going to be more positive, and find good things to say and do, rather than slipping into the snide or snarky. Howard Beale – nor any other talking head – isn’t going to make a mindless acolyte out of me.

Because you know what? Civility is all around us. We recently took a trip from Idaho to Arizona and back, and encountered far many more polite, kind, and civil people than rude and uncivil ones. I firmly believe there are still many more good people on this Earth than there are bad ones. Does that mean I’ve got blinders on, or am ignorant of uncivility? Not hardly. I just choose to react positively to kindness, and not at all to rudeness. Pining for a civil society doesn’t do us any good unless we’re willing to be civil ourselves and, frankly, to shut up when we feel like being uncivil towards others.

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