Civility Starts with Us

What can we do to advance the cause of civility in today’s verbally toxic society? We must realize how powerful words are and how lethal they can be. Remember the admonition of Arthur Caliandro, former pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, “”I can never know just how my words will be received by their intended receiver.” Today we would have to add to that or by someone who hears my words through the media or other sources.

Resolve not to add to the situation by responding with hostile remarks or actions. Don’t encourage explosive words from others or pass them on. Let those words languish where they are. Famed preacher/writer Norman Vincent Peale gave the best advice, “Don’t walk away from negative people. Run.”

Recent racial remarks, acts of vandalism, and threats made against members of congress show just how far we have moved from a civil society. We have moved from attacking each other’s arguments to attempting to destroy each other both literally and figuratively. There is more than enough blame to go around, but assigning blame will not solve the problem. Who is to blame depends on our perspective.

Acting with civility doesn’t mean giving up your ideas or accepting the opinions of others. It means respecting the other person. I love the story about the women playing bridge at Fort Hood. An older lady announced, “I am not going to sit here and listen to you telling lies about Ike.” She has the right approach.

My father told me a wonderful story which has stayed with me about a men’s meeting. The guest speaker looked around the room and said, “I don’t see any ladies present and so I have a great story for you.”At that moment a man stood up and proclaimed, “No. There aren’t any ladies here, but there are some mighty fine gentlemen.”

Taking personal responsibility for what goes on around us is not always easy or without personal risk; however, it is the only way to create an atmosphere that is conducive to productive, respectful dialogue.

Practicing civility is more than not adding to the verbal poison; it also involves being a positive influence. We need to utter a kind word. We can encourage those around us. We can demonstrate that there is a better way to act. Look around you. There is someone close by who needs a cheerful, uplifting word from you. Don’t let the opportunity pass.

My mother never failed to remind me that there is never a cause for rudeness.