I readily confess, I am a late comer to Facebook! I finally decided to take the plunge recently, because I was being asked by so many folks if I was on Facebook. Once I took the plunge, in a relatively short period of time, I was connected to friends and acquaintances I had not heard from or seen in decades. It has been thoroughly delightful. With my mobility restrictions, being able to leverage social media to stay connected with others, to be a small part of their lives, to send a quick affirming message or ‘thumbs up,’ has precluded the kind of isolation that can so easily be part of ‘growing older.’ However, sadly, those who have been engaged with social media for some time and even new comers, like myself, have witnessed its dark side.
Within the past decade, all of us have experienced the eroding of civility, not only in our communication with one another but, more often than not, within the arena of political discourse. Gone are the days when we would speak of the ‘loyal opposition,’ or ‘agree to disagree,’ or ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’ I recently got a taste of this in posting what I thought was a rather tame article encouraging young people to get involved with making a difference for the common good within the social fabric of our Country. Don’t just complain, become involved. Within no time, a responder was characterizing and name calling what he thought to be my political orientation.
Frankly, like the proverbial frog in gradually heating water, we are so inundated with this kind of incivility, from the highest levels of our government to the talking heads on our 24-hour cable news, that we are often unaware that we are complicit in this kind of unworthy and potentially lethal behavior.
Part of the blessings and challenges in being part of a pluralistic society where we glory in the four foundational freedoms of our land - the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in our own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear – is the cultivation of civility and tolerance. At one time, civility and tolerance would be values and virtues inculcated at home and in our schools. One would be naive to assume that today. And so, where can these virtues be nurtured today? In what safe environments can our legitimate differences of opinion, strongly held political convictions and cherished religious values flourish and be respected?
Would it be out of the question to think that this might occur within the very medium that can become so toxic, social media itself? For those who might be willing to exercise some important disciplines, each one of us might be a mentor of civility as we vigorously wrestle with the issues that stir our minds and hearts with passion. And so, with this in mind, perhaps the following might be a helpful guide toward civility:
1. No name calling. While we might vigorously disagree with the thoughts, concerns or positions of others, everyone deserves respect and dignity. This has nothing to do with being politically correct, but is rather the measure of one's integrity and maturity.
2. Strive to understand. I have found the following approach so much more helpful than an immediate knee-jerk reaction: I’m not sure I understand completely your strongly held perspective, can you explain a bit more about….?
3. Demonization of those with whom we disagree ends all possibility of dialogue. Taking the high road and ascribing the best of motives to those with whom we disagree, goes a long way in finding some common ground of agreement, no matter how modest it may be.
4. Prioritize the level of your passion and outrage. There are a lot of ‘tempests in teapots’ going around these days. Folks, not everything spells the end of Western Civilization as we know it! Turning down the emotional volume can go a long way in helping to listen attentively to the issues that really require our focused passion and concern.
The 17th century German Lutheran theologian, Repertus Meldenius, who lived during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), a bloody time in European history in which religious tensions played a significant role, gave the Christian Church a worthy maxim that, perhaps, can provide a helpful guide for us today as we strive to “Speak the truth in love.” In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.