Several years ago I received a FaceBook message from an old San Francisco friend making accusations about someone very close to me. The complete note read (I’ve left out the name and the supposed action): “I suppose you are proud of xxx for doing yyy. I think xxx is a scumbag.”
This was interesting. I hadn’t heard from this man in many years–a man to whom, at his request, I had donated much time without payment for something very dear to him. We also used to spend time together playing tennis and chess, and he was also a guest in my home on a couple of occasions. And here was this accusatory note from him without either a “Hi Dennis” or a signature or real space for civil discourse.
The fact that the accusation was false is not what really concerns me here, though it is troubling enough. People, in their ignorance, make false accusations all the time (I myself have certainly done so). What bothered me most was this man’s lack of even the smallest degree of civility in communicating with me about the issue. No openness. No kindness. No interest in my view.
Of course, one sees incivility everywhere today: on Facebook, on Internet discussion groups, in politics, between governments, and, sadly, between people who call themselves friends. Lack of civility in today’s world is indeed ubiquitous.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “There can be no high civility without a deep morality.” And he was right. Civility and deep morality go hand in hand, though this is seldom recognized. Emerson was not talking here about the cheap rules of morality, the political correctness that people use as weapons to try to bludgeon one another. No, he was speaking, I believe, about what it means to be truly human.
Unfortunately, we see little discourse today based on civility, especially in the public arena. Making angry accusations is easy, but it is only civility and kindness that allow people to actually listen to one another in a way that enables new understanding and real relationship.
Copyright 2010-15 by Dennis Lewis