With an election year looming and our energies running hot these days, let’s take a few minutes to talk about civility and how some extra care given to civility in 2020 might look. Civility is not compromising or giving up on our strongly held convictions, but it’s a more productive and honest way of speaking to the issues and ideas which move our politics and public discourse. Our words matter. Our convictions matter. Our neighbors matter. So, civility matters. I’m asking us to commit to a higher level of civility in 2020 in two specific ways…
First Resolution: Let’s not post and share the name-calling mean memes in 2020, or ever. They aren’t fair, usually aren’t too accurate, and they likely hurt someone we love, a friend or family member. Let’s just be done with mean memes. Name-calling is simply the least productive and least accurate way to talk to, with and about people, and accuracy is important. Name-calling generalizes people, usually undercuts their personal value and worth, and it’s a childish way to score a point or make ourselves feel better. We often proudly claim and use titles and political designations like Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian, and more, and using those titles is ok. But using offensive slurs like dopey, traitor, libtards or deplorables, meant to degrade people and grab a laugh, is when we stray into incivility, stop advancing what we actually hold as political convictions and lose the argument. Really. As soon as we start throwing around names and meanness like that we’re no longer arguing a political point of view, but we’re resorting to bullying tactics and personal attacks to intentionally hurt someone. We’re also possibly hurting someone we love with these ugly names, someone who thinks a bit differently than we do and just got a derisive label slapped on them by our social media post. It’s not a joke, not laughable and not right. Besides, that mean meme is probably not only wildly inaccurate but was made by an internet troll to do exactly what it’s doing: to cloud issues and to wreck your civility and relationships with family and friends. Don’t feed the trolls, my lovely people. Let’s stop the mean memes.
Second Resolution: Let’s speak to people’s actions and words, not evaluations of their character. Ridiculing or attacking people just doesn’t get the job done. We’re taking about de-weaponizing our speech. We have to speak with civility, which means making our point about ideas and issues, while not stooping to attacking personalities and personal attributes. This is admittedly a tough one, but it’s such a powerful habit if we can throw some real energy behind it. Let’s apply this to President Donald Trump and me… I personally cannot abide most all of his rhetoric. I do not approve of his calling people names or attacking them personally. I don’t like his use of Twitter to throw personal attacks at children, public servants and other politicians. I cannot stand all the false statements he makes. And yet, I can say all that without saying “F*%k Trump.” I can also study up on and speak against all his inaccurate and false public statements without saying “he’s a liar” or attacking some aspect his personal appearance with a mean meme. Just point to the facts. We can apply this to any politician. I can say, “I really wish Joe Biden didn’t have so many public gaffs, and I’m actually worried at the thought process and disconnect which leads him to say something like, poor kids are as smart as white kids.“ I don’t have to attack Biden’s character or call him a racist to talk about the systemic racism in America which has encoded ideas like equating poor with non-white and therefore equating white with wealth and intelligence. I can be appalled that he would say such a thing and I can hope he reflects deeply on his way of thinking about the world, all without calling him a racist or needing to demean his character. As someone so completely opposed to our current President on so many issues of economics, environmental protection and civil rights, I do find this a tough task. President Trump’s words and actions are hurting people, or have great potential to hurt people, often people whom I love. Attacking his words and actions instead of him personally helps me stay sane, helps me better present an opposing position (which will hopefully help make a safer world for those threatened people), and honors my commitment to civility.
This is a heavy lift and will demand more from us as participants in our civil discourse and interaction with issues and details. It’s takes way more energy to construct an opposing view on something or to deconstruct a stated view, than just saying “they’re a piece a sh*t” or “they don’t love America.” We cannot allow ourselves to get distracted with name-calling and pettiness when there are simply too many things being said and done which we must strongly and unequivocally oppose. We need to maximize every opportunity to expose the threats and crimes which must be confronted. Civility will help us get more done for more people.
Ok, that’s a lot of writing about only two things I’m asking us to embrace: 1) no more mean memes and name-calling, and 2) speaking to people’s words and actions instead of character assassinations. This is doable, and as crazy as 2020 is bound to get, civility is going to be so needed. Also, there are political ideas which need to be confronted and defeated, for our neighbors’ sake. We’ll accomplish that when we keep our convictions and keep it civil.
I had to go to the MVA yesterday. Yes, the dreaded Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland. It might be the DMV where you live or some other innocuous sounding jumble of letters, but it means the same thing: a little death. My vehicle registration had expired on June 1, and yesterday was June 13, but it had taken me that long to track down all the flags and little things to tidy up before I could renew, to the tune of several hundred dollars. I thought it was all done, and I thought I’d be in and out of there.
I arrived to find that EZPass, the nefarious organization which runs a local crime syndicate called “Tollway” had more outstanding fines for me to pay than their enforcer had told me on the phone last week. I had been told that the $50 I paid last week would get me in the clear, but their mob muscle at the MVA detailed another $650 or so I’d have to pay before I could ever drive legally again on Maryland turf. I posted the Gif here of a collapsing baby on Facebook from a place of inner pain and hopeless I thought could only be visualized by the falling innocence and dejection of an infant who would surely also flop right off the couch and land on their face. #carpetburn Really, this was all too much to take in… so much worse than their only having Diet Pepsi available as the low calorie soda option in the vending machine.
I was upset. I was stunned. I did not have $650 to clear my good name and my Nissan’s registration. Of course, I could have yelled and stamped my feet. I really, really, really wanted to yell and stamp my feet and basically wig the fruit right out of my grits and bacon. But let’s be real for a minute… everything and I mean everything my faith is supposed to be about is about not doing that kind of thing. I am supposed to be forgiving, patient, kind, joyful in distress and expectant of good things, among other things, all of which sound great in sermons and hymns and are really difficult at the MVA. I don’t know what exactly the woman with EZPAss saw in my face, the hopelessness, the patience, or just a face not screaming obscenities at her from a mess of my own making, but she next says these amazing and unexpected words: Have you ever had a one-time waiver?
A one-time waiver? I’ve suddenly got that feeling like Katniss when the salve dropped in on a chiming parachute to heal Pita: hope.
I have not had this thing, tell me more. She goes on to detail that she has the power to give me this waiver and bids me wait a moment while she checks and receives instructions from a small robot overlord on her desk she reverently called “My System.” She smiles and explains that all my many $50+ fines adding up to almost $650 can all be magically changed to $3 fines, but only once in my life. There can be only one. I had not had this done for me ever, so she could do it now, and all my fines and fees and great debt were shrunk to a total of $70.
I like to rant about the MVA. It’s fun to rant on the MVA. But once I cleared things with EZPass, I was out of there in barely more than thirty minutes updating the address on my license and renewing my registration. So as much as ranting might be fun and even funny, I have to be grateful. I have to be thankful. I’m so thankful that EZPass is housed at the MVA and I didn’t have to travel across the state to find them. And I’m glad I didn’t go nuts, because I’m supposed to be nice. I’m grateful for the ease with which things were settled, and for keeping my fruit together. Amen.
Oct. 31 ~ A dream: We can speak a world of bridges into existence. Every day. #civility
I have been humbled and excited to make a month’s journey thinking about civility. It’s been a great ride, intellectually and relationally, as we interacted on Twitter, Facebook and here! Thank you! Let’s live the dream! Let’s speak a world of bridges into reality where the spaces between us afford some beautiful views and vistas where only disconnect had been seen before!
Oct. 30 ~ Civility knows when to keep quiet and just let something go. #civility
This is a higher level skill… some people think it’s a cool skill to have snappy comebacks and to be able to return insult for insult, but keeping quiet? That’s one that takes skill and experience.
And this may not even be about an insult, but simply letting something go… when someone makes a mistake or misspeaks… you don’t always have to correct them. They’ll probably realize in a little while they made a mistake. Or maybe it’s someone who feels they need to correct you, even when you know you’re right. Or the blame game? Or “getting the last word in?” Letting these things go without a fight can be tough, and surprisingly rewarding.
It’s most rewarding because it makes room for everyone’s blood pressure to drop and tensions to lessen. It creates a less competitive, hectic space.
Oct. 29 ~ Civility is marked by humility, patience and candor. #civility
Oct. 28 ~ Civility offers the needed apology. #civility
I knew eventually I’d hit a day when it slipped past me to get a saying on civility posted before falling into an exhausted sleep, and that was yesterday! I’m sorry.
That means today is a double day! And civility does offer the needed apology. Incivility doesn’t apologize because the apology is so easily stopped by anger, pride and the desire to be “right” or to be “dominant.”
It’s that base of humility, patience and candor that allows civility to function. On such a solid footing one’s own mistakes are clearly seen, reflected on and owned. Owning mistakes and offering apologies unlocks new vistas of discourse.
Oct. 27 ~ “If speaking is silver then listening is gold.” Turkish Proverb #civility
Been saving this little dandy for that day when nothing comes to me… and that day was today! Woot for cool old sayings attributed to far away places! And it fits the civility discussion so well!
Oct. 26 ~ Civility includes mastery of the basic courtesies: please, thank you, you’re welcome. #civility
Indeed, simple courtesies are the building blocks of civil discourse. These small habits engender a sense of dignity to a conversation and display an intrinsic respect for the other participants.
Want to build personal credibility? Be thankful and gracious when you speak to people. Even in moments of disagreement being courteous allows the discourse solid traction to keep moving forward.
Somewhere along the way someone started acting like “being right” completely overshadowed “acting right” or “speaking right.” The idea caught on, and a win at all costs attitude developed in our manner of discourse and disagreement that leaves no room for courtesies. It looks and acts something like this: “If I am right, then you are wrong, and therefore you are not deserving of my courtesies, and I am not obligated to be courteous, especially if my good manners might steal some of the impact of my superior ideas.” Sound like anyone on the radio you’ve heard recently? I’ve heard that attitude spoken on both sides of the aisle, right and left!
A Presbyterian friend of mine once made a self-deprecating joke about his denomination’s tendency to be slow to adopt changes and fast to assemble committees for long and multiple meetings, he said, “We Presbyterians are the ones who can miss an opportunity to do right because we’re so focussed on doing it right.“ I get what he’s saying, and I can chuckle with him at the joke, but I also have to give some grudging respect to the attitude of doing things well.