Last month I focused on what I learned from the book In Defense of Civility, by James Calvin Davis.  Here is the author’s concluding definition of civility from page 159.  “I like to define civility as the exercise of patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect in civil conversation, even (or especially) with those with whom we disagree.”  (Italics are the authors).  As the madness of modern politics heats up the nation, understanding of this definition might be a benefit for everyone, if they will listen and put it into practice.

Patience is a very difficult word.  Many of us struggle to find patience and even when we find it, it never seems to be of sufficient quantity for the situation.  Patience demonstrated within conversations on difficult topics is essential, but often missing.  We get so caught up in making our point and getting ready our reply that we fail to listen to the words of the other person.  Listening is very important.  The old adage that God created us with two ears and one mouth was intended and we were to utilize them in the same proportion still holds true, especially when emotions start to rise.  It doesn’t mean we avoid hard issues; it means that we are as patient with the other person as we would hope that person will be with us.  Remember, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?

Integrity in this definition requires truthfulness in all discussions and debates.  Not the truthfulness that currently passes within political advertising, but rather the truthfulness that was expected by our grandmothers.  Grandmothers always expect more truth from grandchildren, at least mine did.  With the amazing speed with which stories can spread due to the internet and 24 hour news stations, we have to be careful to be sure that information is accurate.  As we have seen in the past, both the internet and the news media can be wrong.  We need to seek the truth and demand the full truth from all our sources, especially our leaders.

Humility is not about surrendering to others so that the conversation can end.  Rather it is about the self-realization that we truly do not have all of the answers to every problem in the known universe.  Current political rhetoric condemns people that change their mind about issues.  We seem to want our leaders to never learn anything new for fear that they might discover a better answer or a better way of solving problems.  As a pastor, I do not know everything!  There are times I may act like that isn’t the case, but I will readily admit that all of us are equally capable of discerning what God wants of us as well as all of us being able to discern better ideas and solutions than I can find.  That is why we live in community.  Each of us brings our unique gifts to the work of living harmoniously in God’s creation.  We must always be open to new information, new insight, new revelation.  None of us are too old to learn something new.

I remember being taught that I needed to earn respect.  While this is indeed true, it is not complete.  We have to start with an understanding that everyone deserves respect because they are the creation of God.  We have to respect that each person is entitled to a base of respect that can either rise or fall based upon what they do and how they do it.  When we get into sensitive discussions with another person, we have to offer them the same respect that we would like to receive.  We can often sense when someone offers little respect to others.  It is visible in the way they talk with us and look at us.  If we behave in the same manner, it does not serve us well as Christians.  Remember all the times the Gospels tell us of situations that make us little different from the Gentiles and the Pharisees?  We need to be respectful of other people and especially make it visible when that person is someone with whom we disagree.

Try to remember this definition as the political races heat up.  Remember it whenever you hit a tense situation and face difficult people.

Shalom, Darrell