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A Simple Act of Civility

Posted on January 27, 2011 | By Robby White

The news report stated that the President’s State of the Union address would be different; Senators would cross the aisle and put aside their partisan differences and sit together. This is in response to the shooting that occurred earlier this month in Arizona. It is a way to show respect and unity at a time our nation needs healing.

Civility is an important and almost forgotten element of contemporary politics and life. Being civil is an act of courtesy, respect, and politeness. These qualities have been missing in recent years, especially in the political arena.

It is easy to point accusing fingers and blame the press and media or a particular party or movement but in reality the fault lies in all of us. A society becomes what it allows. We have become so passionate about policies and procedures that we’ve forgotten to be civil. You can detect this lack of civility by the inability to have discourse about the ideas and issues that matter. This reluctance is seen in every aspect of our culture, churches and classrooms – people afraid to voice their opinion because there is a general lack of consideration and respect.

This lack of civility is detected best in our rhetoric. The way words are used to divide and accuse have become a daily habit. We have become accustomed to this uncivil discourse.

The consequences of this incivility are obvious. Not only do words wound, they divide us. Words of fear and anger fuel division and hatred. Some will minimize this gesture of civility. Some will debunk the effort and question the intention of those who participate in this public show of civility.

It is true, we will still have our differences. There are policies and issues that we will disagree about. But beneath our differences there is a commonality that binds us together. We are Americans – we are human.

All of us only see part of the big picture. Our knowledge is partial at best. This requires a spirit of humility and consideration. I applaud this simple act of civility. It is a symbol that can help us correct the mean-spirited and divisive rhetoric of partisan politics.

I know, sitting together will not fix all that troubles us, but it is a first step toward healing the divide that separates us. After all, maybe if we could sit together we could learn to talk together. Who knows, we may discover we have more in common than we thought.

This call to civility is crucial in the church. The ability to dialogue and question, to discuss and consider ideas and issues is essential. This is the way we grow spiritually. Paul reminds all of us that we see through a glass dimly. Let us honor the only law of Christ and that is to love one another.

Harry Emerson Fosdick said it this way:  “There are many opinions in the field of modern controversy concerning which I am not sure whether they are right or wrong, but there is one thing I am sure of:  courtesy and kindness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right. Opinions may be mistaken but love never is.”

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