During this past week, I either watched or learned of the following:
- A friend’s husband removed political bumper stickers from the family car because of safety concerns for his wife and children.
- A politically active local group is seeking to have a newspaper columnist fired because of her published opinions.
- A friend on Facebook referred to a U.S. Senator as a “radical nut cake” simply because she disagreed with her politics.
- A patient called a doctor’s receptionist and aggressively berated her because she could not immediately connect him to the doctor (who was with another patient at that time).
- A mother gave her son a stun gun to take to school to defend himself against bullying tormentors.
Have we lost our civility as a society? Is this simply a matter of disagreement, or is something more profound at stake?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “There can be no high civility without a deep morality.” Whatever your religious or spiritual persuasion, no one can doubt the correlation between declining civility and our culture’s declining morality. Civility is given lip service, if it’s considered at all. When it’s claimed in the name of taking the high road, it lasts for less time than an ice cream cone on a summer afternoon in Florida.
Those who disagree often attack each other with such vehemence that the issue deteriorates from mere disagreement to an all-out war. Battle lines are drawn. Sides are chosen. Intelligent discussion and debate are sacrificed on the altars of passion and pride.
The rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me,” is one of the biggest lies perpetuated on children. Words do cause harm. Names can crush a spirit and inflict injuries that may not be physical, but are still life-altering. Worse, name-calling is rarely the last stop. It’s a short distance from cruel words to vicious actions. From a put-down to a knock-out. From slurs to stun guns.
The Bible tells us, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…. everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34, 36-37).
I’m reminded of the classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. The ugliness of Dorian’s soul is unseen in his face, but reflected in his deteriorating portrait. You and I don’t have the option of restricting our ugliness to a hidden portrait. Like it or not, our words reveal what is tucked away in our minds. As a jostled glass spills its contents, so our lips spill the contents of our hearts.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” Are we ready to prove the sincerity of our civility? I hope so. If not, we will have lost more than our manners…we will have lost our humanity.
What have your words indicated about the contents of your heart this week?