Keeping Civil In Civilization.
Merriam Webster defines civil as” polite but not friendly: only as polite as a person needs to be in order to not be rude.” And according to the etymology dictionary the word civil originated from the Latin word civilis, "relating to a citizen, relating to public life, befitting a citizen…courteous.” 1
It was not until the late 16 century that the word civil was used in the English language and though the word has been around now for almost a half or century, it may take even longer for it to have a full effect on mankind.
Civility does not mean that we all have to agree with one another’s philosophy, plotics or religion. It does however, require courtesy. A quality that seems to have all but disappeared from society.
I looked up synonyms of courtesy and chose some of the ones that spoke to me. Civility was the very first word that appeared followed by; deference, kindness, generosity, chivalry, favor, respect, politeness, tact and gentleness.
The antonyms I chose from the list were; disdain, disregard, meanness, disrespect, aloofness, coldness, fear, discourtesy and neglect.
The latter qualities seem to be more prominent in human behavior. But I cannot imagine or accept that these qualities are the true make up of man.
In Genesis 1:26. “26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image and likeness.” (ICB) So if in fact we accept this as the identity of generic man, then it would stand to reason that our traits would resemble that of the divine nature of God but it seems that the behavioral traits mostly demonstrated are not in alignment with divinity.
After the 2016 presidential election here in the America, there were many examples of people acting in contrary to civility based upon the extreme differences between parties. It was reported in some political advertisements that it was like there were two different Americas being represented.
This was stirring-up fear in people’s minds, provoking animosity and fueling the fire of prejudice and hate.
Some individuals chose not to get involved at all including withholding a vote, while others chose to handle the antagonism of erratum with more error.
As I watched the drama escalate, turning people against one another, I could not help but pray even more fervently that eyes of our nation would be opened to the truth that like it or not in these United States the majority rules.
I feared that either way the election turned out, there would be a lot of American citizens who would not be happy. So it is fair to say that even though the majority does rule, to many, it does not meant the majority is right.
In Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” he said, ““But government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.” In other words, he is intimating that because whoever would get elected still others would feel unrepresented.
So how can all of the people be pleased with the results of a majority rule government?
Thoreau offers a solution explaining that people should be able to govern themselves, reflecting self-control, fairness and the ability to discern between right and wrong.
To govern one’s own mind rather than being entrapped by the majority rule is freedom. To not allow one’s self to be ensnared by the threats of the majority is peace. And though it may be too late to have your choice of candidate elected, it is never too late to practice this kind of mental freedom and self-government. It is not too late to act courteously, kind to others and respectful even in differences of opinions.
The opposite behaviors of civility could never possibly fill the gulf that seems to have been set between friends, family and neighbors. After all, how can disdain, coldness, disrespect and fear heal anything? They cannot!
Samuel Johnson said of civility, “"When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency."
For some people the battle continues in hopes of being heard, counted equally with fellow Americans and will continue the fight until they see their beliefs manifested. For others, they acquiesced while their hopes will have to wait until they fight another day, and for others, they have formed organizations such as the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to ensure that justice and fairness abound for Muslim and Jews.
Though this is not the first election that stirred-up fear and isms. In 1860, the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln ran against John Bell, the Constitutional Union candidate, a Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge and the Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas. After he defeated them it was said that the election results had “torn the nation apart.” As that election and the profound Lincoln made it to our American history books so shall the presidential election of 2016 but unfortunately, it will be for many different reasons.
Regardless of who sits in the oval office as president, there is still a higher approach that one may take to rise above the fear and panic that seems to have been hovering over our United States since the beginning of the presidential race, and it can be found in the new testament readings in 1 Timothy 2:1-4. It is written,
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (ESV)
I realize that this idea may seem absurd and impractical for some, and that a more relative, radical approach needs to be taken. But I trust that a real need for calmness and harmony to replace the mistiness of uncertainty, that there is nothing more important than for our society to act dignified and civilly one to another.
The world has been watching this great country set pathways for others to follow so are we suggesting that they now follow an uncivilized society? Are we to stand by with muted minds while the clock of human progress rewinds back to an archaic time of uncivility, carnal mentality and a society unruly and uncultured? I certainly pray not!
Standing up for what you believe in is integrity but not if you do it with a cynical heart and an angry mind. Not if your motives are to control another person, erase progress and set your own personal unprejudiced agenda into motion.
There have been great advances made in the history of this world without the implementation of violence such as; Jesus the Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King and Betty Williams.
I believe that if each one of us takes the positon of being civil, like those mentioned above, even if we are fearful, even if we are adamantly opposed to the outcome of this election or to anything else for that matter, and hold to deference instead of disdain, kindness instead of hatred, peaceful demonstrations rather than violently expressing our viewpoint, and do our part in putting civil back in the American civilization, then the gulf that seems to be widening within this country, will close and sealed with peace.
ESV-English Standard Version