Let's Be Civil: Citizens of Peace
Not too many months ago I was sitting in a graduate course at my local university where we were having a lively exchange. It was nothing too terribly heated. A great bit of it centered around the notions of ethics and a writer's responsibility toward such a pursuit. My professor, a very friendly fellow, seemingly out of the blue, announced his post retirement plans to start up a blog about the current status of civility in our society...and I haven't been able to stop thinking about the topic since.
Now, who am I to write something about the nature of civility in our culture you may ask? Great question. The answer is rather simple. I am no one. I spend a lot of time with people. I try to help where I can and when I'm invited. Ultimately I possess no great academic accolades which might serve to endorse such a piece as this one. However, like many of you I am a citizen. I am citizen of this great nation—and, I would like to think, I am a citizen of peace.
We live in an age of noise. We simply do. We have our wonderful little super iGadget-android-devices set to curate the noise for us. We program them to find us the stuff we like most, that's often most like us. We bathe in the soft white lithium produced light of our tiny screens on the bus, in line at the coffee shop, and over lunch. We shut out the world—with its scary diversity and not-so-vanilla-opinions.
When we can no longer hide, when we're finally confronted with something even remotely resembling meaningful discourse we fall apart. Arguing over the most asinine stuff ensues. People adopt the tones of experts regarding things to which they are clueless and everyone jumps to support their favorite talking head with made up statistics, blogs, blogs, and more blogs, and lots of anger. It's all noise.
The noise is at war with common sense and the casualties have been the free exchange of ideas, common goodwill toward one another, and the decency of healthy discourse. Shame on us. How did we get here? I don't know. But Google the word civility (I did) and you will see a steep decline in the written use of the word over a two hundred year period. Because apparently Google tracks that kind of thing.
Once upon a time the word civility simply related to the idea of citizenship. In the 1700s it took on an air of politeness. And in the 21st century it is largely forgotten. I'm naive enough to think we can find it again. True, it will be a lot harder for some; but I think it's worth it. It will mean slowing down now and again to, at the least, acknowledge that the person you so heartily disagree with is in fact a person and not just a heartless username and profile pic. There is a human being somewhere on the other side of the hashtag—and you will never be able to understand them, or change their mind in 140 characters.
What if we weren't so wrapped up in being right? Or being heard? What if the loudest and most persistent wasn't always the winner? What if someone didn't always have to win? What if, what if, what if?
Today, just today. Put down the put downs. Don't engage in the noise. Cut through the persistent warble of nothingness created by anger and ignorance. Settle into a seat across from someone different than you. Have a cup of coffee. Share stories.
Find the harmony that exists outside of the emptiness all of that other stuff brings into our lives. Today lets all be civil. Let's be citizens of peace.