“Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, the founders of the Institute for Civility in Government.
A young friend reminded me recently that our politics have been uncivil from the beginning. You have only to remember the duel in which Aaron Burr, then Vice President of the United States, killed Alexander Hamilton, former secretary of the Treasury, to realize that. The stories of campaigns from years ago demonstrate that our political interactions have always contained ugly elements. And yet, this year seemed uglier than the norm, somehow, as if all bonds of civility and decency had been cast off. As I talked with this friend, I agreed that our political campaigns have never been pretty, but I argued that this year was different—perhaps because constant access to social media and the 24/7 news cycle shoved the nastiness in our faces in a way that felt much more intrusive.
I’m wrestling now with what I do about the ugly divisions that plague us in our civic life, especially since the worst impulses of sexism and racism and xenophobia have been ushered into our public spaces during this recent campaign. I grieve for those who are frightened for their own personal safety, and I fear for our future unless we confront the nastier elements that have been unleashed from their dark cellars to parade openly among us. I don’t want the ugliest instincts of the long divisive Presidential campaign that has just ended to become routine.
I know that I will continue to participate in the local NAACP as one way to reach across the divisions in this country. I will also do my best to continue to promote the Institute for Civility in Government, http://www.instituteforcivility.org/, of which I’m also a member. I display their bumper sticker, which says "Choose Civility." Perhaps God encouraged Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, two Presbyterian pastor friends, to create this organization some years ago for just such a time as this. Civility seems somehow a tame response to the ugly forces that now roam openly among us, but perhaps like love, civility is a force that is stronger than we think. We think of hatred and violence as overwhelmingly strong forces, but perhaps that is because they get more publicity than the forces of love and hope and civility that are also at work among us.
In a sermon awhile back, I talked about standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon and seeing what the slow, steady force of water had created over centuries. Not something you can see happening as you stand on the edge, but the results are certainly more impressive than anything that could have been created by dynamite and angry human beings. Civility is a force akin to the slow, steady movement of water eroding through the hard rock of our divisions and our anger to reach the bedrock of our humanity, where we are each precious children of God.
Grace and Peace,