Our political climate has degraded to the point where we may face either another civil war or secession (which happens when one or more states separate from the United States to become a separate country). David French is just one voice among many who makes this point (see his article, “We’re Not in a Civil War, but We Are Drifting Toward Divorce,” National Review, last modified June 8, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017, http://nationalreview.com./article/448385/americans-left-right-liberal-conservative-democrats-republicans-blue-red-states-cultural-segregate.). If we don’t want civil war or secession, what other option is there? Civility.
Let’s be more specific. The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) is a nonpartisan center that is trying to solve the same problem. They crafted a short, sweet summary of what civil citizens look like. Here are their 5 standards with a bit of my own commentary:
- “Be respectful of others in speech and behavior.” No insults, mockery, slander, interrupting, shouting, condescending lectures, eye-rolling, cursing, or distorting the other person’s position.
- “Take responsibility for personal behavior, attitude, and actions.” Your failure to be civil is never the other people’s fault, no matter how badly they behave. This is a character issue and we all have things we can and should work on like patience, self-control, love, and kindness (Christians will recognize as fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, but others usually recognize these as virtues as well).
- “Promote civility through everyday interactions.” You can only do this by being friends with people outside your bubble. Conservatives and liberals can and should be friends and work together towards at least some common goals (like keeping us one nation). The other person’s political and social views are not the only interesting/important things about them.
- “Listen fully and attentively to the speaker, seeking to understand them.” Not just to refute them. And don’t presume you know their real reasons and motives. That’s prejudging people and it’s presumptuous and often inaccurate. This suspicion towards the other side seems to lie behind a great deal of the animosity we see right now. If the other side were really as bad as people in our bubble (whichever bubble that may be) make it sound, we wouldn’t let our children out the door.
- “Practice non-violence, using words to inspire change.” http://www.nicd.arizona.edu/standards). We’ve seen examples of violence towards political rivals in the last few weeks and months. Let’s not become a part of that problem by either physically participating or by using inflammatory rhetoric (like demonizing the other side since this can infuriate people until they think violence is the only way to change things). Instead, use reason. Tell stories to illustrate what justice and injustice look like on your account.
Conversing in a civil way involves give and take, talking and listening, thinking and feeling. Because there is much at stake from all perspectives, we too often feel that the only way to proceed is to defeat the other side. That leads to provoking the other side and boom, here come’s the backlash, which prompts a counter-backlash, and on and on it goes until the two sides are so alienated and so tired of being controlled by the other that they would rather part ways and govern themselves as they see fit. In other words, the first option is to dominate. Failing that, separate. But the third option, civility, retains the desire for unity inherent in the first option and the desire for freedom inherent in the second and has the potential to keep America together.
I admit that I want those who see things the way I do to win the debate and set policy, but right now there is something more pressing: for our country to remain the United States. If you are willing to put that before your political concerns, please join me in practicing these basic principles of civility.