Civility is Hard
Civility is hard, it is very hard. Political civility is especially hard. It is hard because it depends on doing something that very few of us find easy or enjoyable. It depends on us listening thoughtfully to the ideas and opinions of those with whom we disagree and considering them objectively.
In fact, most often we lack the willingness or the mental and emotional resources to put ourselves in the shoes of another person and consider, even for a moment, that our positions could be improved through the input of those we veiw as adversaries. In the worst case we go out of our way to avoid or dismiss, without consideration, any opposing opinion.
In this case civility doesn’t stand a chance, compromise and common ground remain elusive, conflict becomes a permanent state of affairs and violence is always close at hand.
In his Beyond Vietnam speech, Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way. “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and non-violence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessments of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weakness of our own condition and, if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
When we ignore our brother and sisters as a potential source of wisdom, and try to beat them down with our own rhetoric, we are standing in the way of civil discourse.
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer observed that “to understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think Liberals are stupid and Liberals think Conservatives are evil.”
If Krauthammer is even mostly right, civility, as well as our self-governing Democracy, is seriously threatened. Lincoln once said, “We cannot live half free and half slave.” I say, “We cannot live half stupid and half evil.” But it would be a big step forward if we were to become half enlightened.