Is civility on life support?
David Burchett David Burchett's weblog
- 2006 Jun 28
Yesterday was a culturally depressing day for me. I was listening to the Michael Medved Show on my way to the real job. His guest was the controversial author Ann Coulter. Medved was trying to solicit conversation on the questions that Coulter raises in the book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Then I got depressed. A caller began his discussion with this little jewel. "Hey Michael, why are you lowering yourself by having this Elsa Erich on your show?" Elsa Erich was a brutal, sadistic matron of a Nazi death camp who was guilty of horrifying cruelty to Jews. That caller could have been Gandhi, Einstein, Jefferson, and Lincoln rolled into one and I wouldn't have listened to another word he said. This was a random but sadly typical example of the lack of civility that has become far too commonplace in our culture. I guess he thought he was funny or clever. To compare a controversial author to a woman who oversaw the brutal and horrible deaths of thousands of women and children in Nazi concentration camps is irresponsible and ridiculous. How can you begin a conversation with a comparison like that? Medved asked the caller how interviewing the author of the top selling book in American (at that point) could be considered "lowering" himself. He also rebuked the caller for his comparison. But I was done. Why should I waste my time on a "discussion"with that tone?
This inflammatory rhetoric has debate in America on life support. I wish I could be more optimistic about its recovery. Hopefully the majority of the readers of these humble ramblings can actually define civility. But just in case, here is the definition of civility listed at dictionary.com.
1. Courteous behavior; politeness.
2. A courteous act or utterance.
Such a simple concept. Just common sense. Yet it seems like we are tilting at windmills and warbling the Impossible Dream when you hope that two people on opposite ends of an argument can have an intelligent and civil debate. Guests on talk shows yell over one another. Hosts interrupt. Debaters mug with condescending smirks in the other TV box while a guest makes his or her case. I suspect the problem is that these shows tend to attract the 5 to 10 per cent on the extreme end of each position.Ratings show (apparently) that such "debate" makes for better television or radio. Heaven forbid that we be attracted to those might gracefully disagree and make an actual point. Tragically, this ugly level of discourse has made its way into the debate within the body of Christ. Go back and check some of the comments directed toward Every Tribe Entertainment during the discussion over casting Chad Allen in the lead role of End of the Spear. Not always civil. Or very helpful. Certainly not graceful. Paul wrote this to the church at Colosse.
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. Colossians 4 The Message
In Ephesian we find this exhortation.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4 NIV
How often do we hear someone defending their ungracious attitude with the disclaimer that they were just proclaiming the truth. We have a higher standard as followers of Christ. We are called to proclaim truth. We are not called to proclaim "selected" parts of truth. We are not called to water down the truth. But we are also not called to be like Terry Tate, the infamous office linebacker, who leveled anyone who stepped out of line.
It is easy to blindside an unsuspecting target. I have been guilty. But I am determined to find a blend of grace and truth in my communication. That should keep me busy for a couple of decades.
Part two of my mildly depressing day was stumbling on the blog written by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban has gained a lot of capital with Dallas fans (and with me)after the spectacular success he has overseen with the NBA team. But he spent a lot of that capital with his behavior in the recent days surrounding the NBA Championship. But his far less than gracious responses to the media and others was not the only source of my dismay. Here are some other comments that bothered me. The topic was obscenity.
I cant think of anything funnier than a 3 year old cursing. I mean come on, does it really matter if we say Poo Poo or s--- ? Of course not. Unless of course your married and your wife tells you it matters. She doesnt want to be the one who gets phone calls from teachers and other parents getting blamed for all the 3 year olds in the little gym class screaming Kiss My A-- you Mo Fo... Me, i couldnt think of anything i would rather see and hear. but thats me.
Yeah. That is you, Mr.Cuban. But because of your enormous influence it is more than just you. Because you are rich, powerful, famous, and a rebel you have the respect of a lot of people and a lot of young men in particular. Yes,like it or not, you are a role model. And that is why I think that comments like that are depressing. I don't have a big issue with cursing. I am around it all the time in my job in television. I have chosen not to use that language. Regular use of profanity makes you look, in my opinion, less intelligent. I dislike second hand vulgarity as much as second hand smoke. I hate being in public and having to listen to a string of invectives invading my space from a cell phone rant or a loud discussion. At that point it is not just you being you. It is you being rude. I guess this is just part of my inexorable march to grumpy old man. It does matter which words we say. Sometimes it is helpful to be an adult. Words do matter. Examples do matter. Even though I am not rich nor famous nor powerful I am still an example to others. I take it seriously. But thats me.
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Blessings and grace,