Reflections - The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
Civility is a necessary practice in a democracy. By its very definition, the democratic process requires the sharing of ideas and values that can and often do compete and conflict. The goal is to present, discuss, and debate the different points of view of an issue or law or referendum before reaching a decision. Compromise is often necessary. It can be a long, messy process.
Civility is necessary to help us remain true to the practice and purpose of the democratic process, whether in our congregation, our town, or our nation. When we lose civility, we make differences of ideas and values the sources of personal attack and denigration. We shout each other down in town hall meetings and on talk shows, we call each other names and swap insults, we use hyperbole and fear as verbal violence against one another and truth itself. The goal is not merely win, but to destroy the voice and integrity of those with whom we disagree, along with the opposing viewpoints. We turn difference into enmity. We can forget that ultimately, we have a common goal as stated in our U.S. Constitution: "...(to) establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."
I do not know why Jared Loughner decided to shoot to kill at Representative Giffords' public appearance last week in Tuscon. I believe that his actions are much more personal and complicated than the growing lack of civility in our political landscape. That said, civility does provide boundaries which help us honor the truth of each other's humanity. When we lose civility, when we destroy these boundaries, we normalize interaction and discourse that dishonor and threaten our democratic process. Meanwhile, six people are dead, several others wounded, and many are traumatized.
As Dr. King reminds us: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that." May we remain maladjusted to violence and fear, whatever its forms. May we risk the civility necessary for the sake of our democracy.