Members of a civil society possess and adhere to core values. They observe particular norms and standards of behavior when dealing with others. Many of us take certain standards for granted. But doing so in our character-disturbed world is risky. Treating others with civility and generosity are two essential values for a decent society. And these days, not everyone embraces them.
The 9th “commandment” of good character demands that we conduct ourselves in a civil and generous way. Observing it allows us to see others as whole persons and not extensions of ourselves. And it reflects a value that cuts across all class socioeconomic lines. Not everyone merits our respect. (See also: Merit, Virtue, and Character) But we owe it to ourselves and everyone else to conduct ourselves with decency and civility.
The “Golden Rule”
How we treat others should not depend on how they treat us. And behaving in a decent and civil manner doesn’t mean we have to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or abused. It just means we don’t have to act like we believe we’ve been treated. Rather, we should act like we would want to be treated.
Disturbed characters are notorious for treating us badly. Narcissists hold themselves in pathologically high esteem and those they see as beneath them in disdain or contempt. They feel above the need to be civil. And they can easily use and abuse. This hurts, to be sure. But we don’t have to act that way. The real test of our character comes with asserting and advocating for ourselves without engaging in the reprehensible ways disturbed characters treat us. It’s about being strong and firm (i.e. truly self-loving) without descending to their level.
The End of Civility in Discourse?
Today’s society has lots of problems? But all too often, what passes for political debate is little more than vicious attacking, unreasoned cajoling, and information manipulation. And when we engage in either hostile name-calling or in blind platitudes we distract ourselves from the real issues. We also inhibit a meaningful discussion of truly possible solutions. We live in a society with many pressing issues. They need our urgent attention. And we also need workable solutions. So the need for civil discourse has never been greater. But in our national debate, civility is often unfortunately quite conspicuous by its absence.
If we’re to have a prayer of truly recognizing and overcoming our many problems there are a couple of things we must do. First, people of integrity and character must come together. Second, they must engage in a fully open and honest discussion. These two requirements are inextricably interdependent. Participants have to have faced and overcome their fears, biases, insecurities, animosities and misperceptions. They must also be truly committed to the greater good. Only then can the truth emerge. And only then can it be appropriately accepted, respected, and revered when it does.
Confronting problems and challenging each other in a frank, yet benign and clean-spirited way has never been easy. But our times compel us to do so with a level of sincerity and commitment most of us are not used to displaying. The art of “benign confrontation” is the centerpiece of effective therapy when it comes to the character-impaired. (See also: Learning to Confront Benignly and Effectively) But we could all stand to learn how to confront more effectively. We need to confront our disturbed relationship partners as well as our societal problems firmly yet benignly. And we can’t afford to fail at this. There’s too much at stake.
I’ll have more to say about properly heeding good character’s 9th command in the coming weeks. And you can read more about all these matters in all of my books.
Character Matters will again be a live program Sunday Dec. 18, so I can take calls. The following Sunday, Christmas Day, you’ll be treated to a rebroadcast of an earlier program.
Check out the additional dates recently added for workshops.