The art of civility has become a casualty of communication and behavior at all levels and genres of modern society. Civility, if I may, is defined as formal or perfunctory politeness, courtesy and consideration as it relates to both behavior and communication.
Further, to be civil is to be polite not rude and is marked by satisfactory or especially minimal adherence to social norms with sufficient but not noteworthy consideration for others. Thusly, to utilize the art of civility, one must conform to a set of working principles or methods gained through the collective human experience.
Conformity to the art of civility is woefully lacking. For instance, as it relates to topics such as race, politics, sexuality, religion etc., one feels apprehension when expressing opinions for fear of personal attack.
As observed, the fear of personal attack is not without merit. Simply voicing an opinion leaves one vulnerable to be labeled a racist, bigot, communist, sexist, the anti-Christ, etc. All because someone disagrees with the expressed view.
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All too often, the dialogue disintegrates into personal attacks on the individual’s morals, intellect and character. This lack of civility destroys the dialogue which is essential if we are to solve the complex problems our community, state and country face.
Where we all have allowed ourselves to become facilitators of this lack of civility is most evident as it relates to the discussion on race relations. People do not offer workable solutions to our racial problems for fear of personal attacks.
What is worst, when we change the narrative to a demonization of the person expressing the opinion, we no longer focus on the merits of what was said but rather who said it and why. Therefore, we are never able to have an open and frank discussion of what ails society. Consequently, we never come to a consensus about what can be done to make society better for everyone.
Before we can have open and frank discussions about possible solutions, we must first restore the art of civility. Being civil to someone who shares a viewpoint that is the polar opposite is a personal choice. Consequently, we need to be better listeners. This would allow us to approach issues from a different perspective. A perspective that will only become apparent after listening to someone who opposes our view. But let me be honest, rarely will it change our view on the subject. However, it will provide insight as to how and why the person formed the opposing view.
This insight will help us understand that although the individual expressed a polar opposite view, their view was based on a different perspective. This is critical in understanding that the expressed opposing view emanates from a difference perspective rather than interpreting it as racism, bigotry, communism, ignorance, etc.
Further, civility requires that we respect opinions that we do not agree with and respect other people’s time and space. Civility also requires that we acknowledge and think the best of others, speak kindly to others and above all be agreeable. Even when you disagree with someone, invariably they say something that you can agree with, however, you will only hear it if you are not talking.
Our problems can be solved if we focus on what we agree on and use agreement as a basis to work on resolutions. The key to problem solving starts with what we can agree on. And while recognizing that agreeing on the simplest of things is in itself difficult, the results justify the effort.
Needless to say, listening can be very problematic in practice because it is impossible to listen while speaking. Thusly, we can increase our knowledge and understanding exponentially by being silent when others are speaking.
Finally, we must come to the realization that none of us are perfect and that we are all flawed. Thusly, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7). And remember, respect does not have to be earned, respect is given until it is no longer reciprocated. Let the dialogue begin.
Leroy Mack is a resident of Macon.