Like the hint of spring we’re experiencing right now, a hint of civility has surfaced in the presidential campaign. Will it last? Or will candidates return to attack mode as the race for delegates reaches its pinnacle? We shouldn’t be shocked by the lack of decorum that has characterized the 2016 run-up to the presidential election. We’ve abetted unmerciful behavior in the public square at an accelerating rate since the introduction of posting comments on the Internet. A collective examination of conscience is in order. Why can’t we all agree to say “no” to disparaging comments?
Our media should set the example and the tone. National and local news outlets feasted on the controversy over the vulgar language candidates uttered in a recent presidential debate that sounded more like kids taunting each other on the playground than a substantive debate. One editorial page editor in the local press opined that avoiding prejudicial or vulgar language hides the truth. Really? Vulgar language is intended to insult, hurt, and/or belittle another human being. Instead of playing up vulgar and demeaning comments, play them down!
Criticism and vigorous debate have their place; we need to be able to talk about difficult subjects, as uncomfortable as those conversations might be. Disagreement is part of being a member of any community. However, such dialogue requires respect and diplomacy. Think about it. When have the opponents and advocates on a divisive issue ever been persuaded by the strident, conqueror-take-all rhetoric of the other side? In his Feb. 27 blog, Deacon Greg Kandra posted an article about online liturgy shaming. It serves as another example of civility as a casualty in the public square. Deacon Kandra says: “I’ve been guilty of this sin myself — the practice (increasingly popular on the Internet) of posting examples of bad liturgy with the sole intention to deride, ridicule or mock.” He shares an article by writer William Bornhoft, who argues this practice is something we need to avoid.
Bornhoft offers advice all of us should take to heart: “In any situation a good deal of prayer and discernment should go into how conflicts are handled in the Church. When we feel the urge to make a nasty comment or post a scandalous photo of liturgical abuse online, we should ask ourselves whether it’s love of the Church that is guiding our hearts, or a sense of entitlement or judgment.” (http://aleteia.org/2016/02/27/against-liturgy-shaming/).
That advice is applicable to the political campaign as well. When we feel the urge to make a nasty comment, we should ask ourselves, is it for love of country or a sense of entitlement or judgment? Sister Roberta Brich, CHM, who worked in conflict resolution in Denver, Colo., says active listening is an important skill to develop and practice. She and the other sisters living at the Congregation of the Humility of Mary motherhouse in Davenport are engaged in active listening to help them build community, with a facilitator.
“Listen with a third ear,” Sr. Roberta advises. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I hearing the other person saying?’ It’s important that we’re open to the other person’s ideas and not cutting them off.” And, she observes, “Look into that person’s eyes when they’re speaking to you. You’ll see things they aren’t saying.”
That’s good advice for presidential candidates and for all of us as we engage in the public square — real or virtual.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor