This week I viewed the debate involving the republican candidates who are suggesting they should be considered for the presidency of this great nation. Sadly to say, they all left much to be desired when it comes to civil discourse that leads to clear thinking and responsible actions. Moreover, I was reminded of a book that I read in 1998, and kept on my bookshelf entitled, “Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy,” by Steven Carter. I wish to suggest that we revisit that book and refresh our memories therein. In this excellent work, Dr. Carter suggests that unfortunately, even in the 1990’s, we had not mastered the lessons of civility. That lesson involves the discipline of our passions, for the sake of living a common life with others…
Moreover, the idea is that in this age of the self, we should each yield something of our own feelings and desires in order to accommodate others, is too often not thought of. This is why the lead candidate of the republicans, Donald Trump, has been so ill-mannered, unnecessarily bombastic, and entertains millions who excuse his bad behavior. Needless to say, if he had read Dr. Carter’s book on civility, he would not have fallen into his vicious cycles of incivility in his speech and conduct. If he took the time to read Dr. Carter’s book and master these five principles which are the foundation of a democratic society and reflect principles for civil discourse. They are:
- By encouraging people to see even those with whom we disagree as full equals before God, civility enables us to hold the respectful dialogue without which democratic decision making is impossible.
- Civility reminds us that in a democracy all our actions must meet the test of morality, and that our ability to discipline ourselves to do what is right rather than what we desire is what distinguishes us from animals.
- The self-discipline in turn enables us to resist the tendency of the values of politics and the market to swallow all of our public life.
- Our adherence to standards of civil behavior serves, in Arthur Schlesinger’s term, as our letter of introduction to our fellow citizens, thus helping to build community.
- By treating each other with the respectful civility that a shared createdness requires we help make bearable they many indignities and frictions of everyday life.
The above points and nuggets of truth should be embraced by not only politicians, but family members, church folk, and definitely those who have joined the Black Lives Matter movement. It was Dr. Bill Lawson, an early civil rights activist in the 1960’s student movement of Nashville, TN, who said, while addressing concerns about the modern day protest movement, Black Lives Matter, “I read a lot of magazines and newspapers, and the intellectual conversation, even the political conversation, is not one that will ignite a movement. We have too much ‘activism’ in the United States and too little visionary, strategic thinking.” In another sense, what he is saying is that too many act by the yard and think by the inch, and should be kicked by the gentle foot of correction. Thus, the bottom line is if we are to live in a human society, families of love and faith communities who follow Jesus, we must bond together and respect each other, even though we may have our ideologies and differences. When we do this at the end of the day, we will respectfully share ideas and embrace measures that will always be focused on the common good for all.