Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Let's Get Civil

I recently read through my alma mater's latest edition of its alumni magazine. One of the articles was titled "The State of Our Uncivil Union" and explored the epidemic of rudeness in today's society. The article discussed how ratings-driven journalism showcases bad behavior for entertainment value, how the Internet allows us to filter the information we receive so that we limit our exposure to viewpoints we already share, and how we form communities based on exclusion or derision of other groups. Bad behavior is becoming more and more commonplace, and we're no longer surprised when people use loaded and dismissive language to pick apart their opponents. As one quote in the story proclaims, "You can't get away from it. When you hear extremist rhetoric everywhere, it becomes a certain state of normal."

As a Christian, I do have passionate opinions on some controversial subjects. However, I do not need to employ rudeness, name-calling, antics, or disrespectful language to defend my ideas. There is absolutely no reason why we should need to shout at each other, post online comments filled with (frequently misspelled) insults, or try to shun members of our community simply for disagreeing with us on some issue. My friends are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and some of them even have socialist or libertarian leanings. I hang out with Christians, pagans, Buddhists, atheists, and agnostics. I love people who both support and oppose abortion rights and gay marriage. The baseline in all these relationships is that we have to agree to disagree about some things. I don't have a single friend or family member who agrees with me on every issue that's important to me, but I make a commitment not to fight with them about these issues. We can discuss ideas respectfully, but if we allow ourselves to be rude, our relationship could be torn apart.

I don't think Jesus would endorse all the fighting, name calling, and back stabbing that goes on in our culture today. I think he wants us to be civil, to love peace, and to respect one another. We can have opinions, but we don't have to be mean or combative about them. We can defend the rights and the dignity of others without completely disregarding the rights and dignity of our opponents. With that in mind, I am copying the list of tips for civility that I found in the magazine article that inspired this post.

Let's Get Civil
It's not that hard to rein in our tempers and restore some civility to our lives. Follow this simple advice:
  • Slow down and think before you speak or fire off an angry e-mail or text message.
  • Accept that often there is more than one legitimate point of view.
  • If saying something would get you punched in a bar, then don't say it online.
  • Watch your tone—calm and conciliatory is infinitely more successful than critical and challenging.
  • Share the glory.
  • Accept the blame.
  • Ask "Can I help you?" and mean it.
  • Let someone else go first.
  • Don't cut in line.
  • Live by the Golden Rule ("Do unto others...")
  • The Democrats and the Republicans aren't the Saints and the Colts. One side shouldn't have to lose for the other to win.
  • The freeway is neither a battlefield nor a playing field.
  • Checking your iPhone at a business or social function is rude.
  • Checking your iPhone while you're ordering your decaf skinny mocha is rude.
  • Checking your iPhone while you're driving is dangerous.
  • Your children are watching—and modeling—your behavior.

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