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By Rev. Jerry Herships

It seems we are living in a time when “getting along” is getting harder and harder. On top of that, what is meant by “getting along” is changing. Whether we are talking religion, sexism, racism, homophobia or just good old-fashioned politics, we are in a time when civility has fallen by the wayside.

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here. We all can get along…Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it…Let’s try to work it out.”

                             - Rodney King, appealing for calm during the Los Angeles riots (May 1, 1992)

It isn’t just in violent uprising and acts of civil disobedience. It is now a part of how we communicate. Discussions and dialogues quickly seem to spin out of control. It takes no time at all for someone to say, “The level of stupidity of the other side” or “Their sheer ignorance” and the gloves are off.

How do we address the growing lack of civility in our country? How do we return to the time when ideas were exchanged and thoughts shared?

To start, we have to consider one fundamental question: Are we talking about face-to-face or social media? When it comes to social media, I have come to conclusion that the answer has becoming simple: do not engage. I have had a practice or responding back and forth a couple of times and then asking that we take the conversation offline. I have done this dozens of times. Only twice did someone take me up on it. This begs the question: what was the purpose of the online conversation to begin with? Was it to exchange ideas or was it to try to “win” an argument? Was it to convince someone else to an alternative way of looking at a problem, or was it an attempt at public shaming? (Incidentally, I have been guilty of this as well….wanting to “win” rather than learn a new perspective. No one side of any argument has the corner on that.) All that is to say, I don’t think in the history of social media has anyone ever said, “Oh my God, I never saw it that way. Thank you for opening my eyes to this and changing my views and doing it in a way that embarrasses me in front of a lot of people. I stand corrected and I am sorry.” If an argument is started on social media, ask the arguer if they wanna grab lunch, a beer, or a cup of coffee and talk about it. If they don’t? Shake the dust of that conversation from your feet, bless them silently and move on.

When it comes to conversations IRL (In real life), a friend of mine asked the question: should we be civil at all times? Should we be civil to Nazis or Child Abusers or worse (although I’m stuck to think of what’s worse than child abusers and Nazis). There is a time for civility to go out the window (This is the moment many folks will invoke the story of Jesus driving out the money changers from the Temple. While I agree that there is a time, I would want to point out quickly that we have many more examples of Jesus using compassion and grace with those that were at odds with him.)

We also have to consider who gets to decide what is civil and what is not? Merriam-Webster defines civility as a polite act or expression. Which begs the questions: Is pointing out injustice uncivil? Is name calling? Are protests civil? Is attacking someone’s character? How about their point of view? And let’s not forget to ask: Who is the power in the room who gets to decide where the line of civility is? Should we ever be leery of that power?

Someone used a quote by Walt Whitman when I posted about this topic a few weeks ago: “Be curious, not judgmental.” I like that, although I am certain there are people reading this that think that time is over. I am also very conscious that these words of mine are coming from a straight, white, middle-aged, able-bodied male. I have been afforded every privilege this world has to offer with the exception of being insanely rich (and even there, compared with most of the world…I am). Many feel like the time to be civil is over. I think if civility is going to be placed on the side of the road, it needs to be done strategically and not just as a cathartic act. I think Steven Covey years ago came up with two useful phrases: “Seek first to understand” and “Begin with an end in mind.”

The only thing I would add to that is what one other guy said 2,000 plus years ago: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Now those? Those are words we can agree on. 


Rev. Jerry Herships is a speaker, author and founder of AfterHours Denver. His book - LAST CALL: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus is available through Amazon and Westminster John Knox or through his website www.jerryherships.com. He is working on a second book now, coming out next year, dealing with the topic at hand: How we put more love in the world and connect to a greater good.

[Posted on July 10, 2018]

 
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