Civil discourse seems a lost art these days. And that’s truly sad. We humans have a remarkable ability to communicate. Sadly, we don’t always use the talent wisely.
Our society faces many challenges. So, our need for a robust conversation couldn’t be greater. Besides, we have much to learn from one another. So it’s a shame we so often come to our encounters with minds already made up. And so much of what comes out of our mouths sometimes only alienates as opposed to binds. No wonder we seem so divided these days.
The 9th “Commandment” of Character
I’ve really been working on a re-frame of the 9th Commandment of character. (I first introduced this commandment in Character Disturbance, p. 144) (See also: Civility and Generosity Go Together.) Re-framing this axiom just right is very important to me. That’s because the spiritual dimensions of it bear so heavily on solid character formation.
Here’s the original wording of commandment number 9:
Treat those you encounter with civility and generosity.
Every human encounter carries a unique opportunity. It can be an opportunity for loving, healing, constructive connection. Or, it can be an opportunity for destructive divisiveness. Now, creating loving encounters isn’t just good for others. It’s actually what we ourselves need for true inner peace and happiness.
Because we’re all broken people, our encounters are naturally full of strife. So, it’s up to us to be civil, even when we’re sorely tempted not to be. And we have to find it in our hearts to be generous. That means giving even when we think we have little left to give. And it means opening ourselves up, even in the face of possible rejection.
Ultimately, we have to bring to our encounters the peace we want others to afford us. We have to be the change we want to see in others and in the world. But first, we have to learn how to talk to one another. That’s where civil discourse comes in. Until we can share openly and lovingly, we can’t really connect. We certainly don’t have to agree on everything. Nor do we have to abandon our principles just to get along. And we certainly don’t have to subject ourselves to harm. But we do have to be mindful of how we engage. We have to do our part. And when we engage in a civil manner and with a generous heart, something positive inevitably grows.
In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing some examples of civil vs. uncivil discourse. And I invite the readers to share their experiences in trying to dialog with the character-impaired.