I am part of several Facebook discussion groups, follow a number of blogs, and read a lot of political and religious websites on a daily basis. And one thing I have gotten extremely tired of lately is the lack of civility. Folks on several of the Facebook discussion groups I am part of ask questions and then blast anyone who differs from their opinion. The discussion on several topics has gotten downright ugly at times. Now, a disclaimer – I have participated in these discussions but have tried to stay civil. I believe I have played nice but others might see my participation differently. I am, after all, a very opinionated person who is not shy about sharing her beliefs, political stances, etc. But I have tried. And one glance on political websites or at cable news shows and your “lack of civility meter” will be on full overload.
It is really nothing new. Even though folks have been talking about the lack of civility a lot lately – (especially before and since the 2008 election) it is nothing new. In the 1870s political cartoonists used their voice – sometimes in very uncivil manners – to bring down Boss Tweed in New York. In the 1960 election, the Catholicism of John F. Kennedy was discussed by some in clearly uncivil ways. Attacking political opponents is a long standing tradition around the world. But it does seem that civility has taken a decidedly negative turn of late. Some of it seems politically based, some seems racially based to me (in presidential politics right now), but mostly it is simply differences in ideology and how they view the role of government.
I remember growing up in Texas being told – never discuss religion or politics around the table. The reason was that arguments would likely erupt. But my family always encouraged these types of discussions. And today, the result is politically savvy children and grandchildren … folks who vote, work for their candidates, and make their voices known. And children and grandchildren who are greatly involved in their churches and know what they believe. We do not always agree on any of these things, but we try to be respectful of each other. Even when my son was younger and found out his grandparents were Republicans we took a moment and he called to talk to them about it. He respectfully asked if they knew the candidate they were backing was against something important to his family. They talked about how they did not agree with everything their candidate said but overall agreed more with them than the others in the field. They applauded his inquiry and interest. And he learned to ask intelligent questions of others about their beliefs and to discuss it in a civil way.
But that is not what I have experienced in some of my web based discussion groups. There has been some real animosity and lack of civility. I want to have important discussions and to do that with a variety of people. I want to have important discussions with folks I disagree with and be respected in that discussion – while I am at the same time affirming their right to be wrong. Whoops … I meant their right to have their own opinion. But I seldom get that. Is it me? Am I not affirming of other’s opinions? I think I am. But I also would guess we all believe that about ourselves.
So here is my advice to myself and to others. STOP yelling at each other. Stop being so entrenched in your own views that you cannot even listen to other people. Stop being disagreeable. Stop being so rigid. Stop being so mean. Stop assuming the other person is wrong.
Listen to each other, disagree in love, discuss in a civil manner, and for goodness sake be aware that how you treat each other in these discourses is being watched by the next generation. I am so grateful that my son learned one good thing from me – to be civil in his discussions and disagreements with others. And I hope to echo that behavior in my own life – on the web or in person.
Being civil is hard work – but it is also necessary!