Civics and Civility

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As the election draws near I have felt an increasing anxiety that our country might be taken over by a certain Republican pretending to care about the average American. This anxiety, which spikes excessively during political debates, has increased my online sassiness significantly. Normally I’m not that person who engages in comment wars online, calling out naysayers who have no clue what they’re really naysaying about. I let them be and am content to tell the online world about the delicious recipe I just made or the hilarious typo I fixed at work that day

But during election season (or when a particularly annoying and incompetent Kansas governor makes a terrible decision) my commenting online takes a turn toward the dangerous arena of judgment, biting sarcasm, and putdowns.  Now, you might be thinking, “Big deal, Elizabeth. That’s what politics is all about.” And you might be right on some level. But tell me this friends: just when did we start leaving the civility out of civics?

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Back in the day they used to settle political debates with a duel. But how far have we come really, when our words are just as violent?

One of the fantastic things about America, despite its undeniable flaws, is that for the most part we have held on tightly to our 1st Amendment rights.  Some might try to argue with me here, saying various forces have decreased those rights, but the existence of the terrible, hateful, Fred Phelps, and the truly disappointing and embarrassing latest Bob Dylan album prove them wrong.  We can pretty much say what we want in whatever medium we choose about politicians, and I think on some level it is not only a right, but also a requirement for us to do so. If we don’t stay informed and engaged in how our country is managed, then we fail as citizens. If we want to further a cause, say reducing homelessness, curing cancer, increasing educational funding, just about anything we care about, then we have to stand up and speak out.  It is perfectly natural for people to voice their opinions on these topics passionately, but at some point it became normal and maybe even expected that they become aggressive, accusatory, and defensive as well.

I am guilty of this offense. A friend of mine whom I have a great deal of respect for called me out online the other day.  I made a hasty, angry, and illogical Facebook post after the VP debate. Basically, I said Joe Biden puts Paul Ryan to shame, even when it comes to being Catholic. What my friend pointed out was that, just who do I think I am to judge these two men on their religious beliefs?  My immediate response was to defend my post, pointing out all the ways that Ryan fails to uphold the tenants of the Catholic faith that he claims to hold dear. But then I stopped, and I was embarrassed. My friend was 100% right.

The very thing I was frustrated about, a candidate not being open-minded when it came to the beliefs of others, was something I was guilty of myself. If I want a president who is:

  • compassionate and works to help not just U.S. citizens, but citizens of the world,
  • who doesn’t put his own beliefs above the beliefs of others,
  • who acts selflessly, with integrity,
  • and most importantly who respects the rights of others, no matter what their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation is,

…then don’t I need to do that myself?

I thought about what His Holiness (HH for short) might think of our election process, and if he had a Facebook account what his posts might look like. I think, perhaps, he would post about how we should wish the candidates peace and wisdom during this stressful time. How we should consider their families and the burden campaigning must put on all of them, especially when the entire country says disparaging things about their husbands/fathers/sons on a daily basis. And most importantly, how even when we speak out against injustice or in support of what we believe, that we need to do so respectfully, and peacefully.

HH says that our adversaries offer us an opportunity to practice patience and compassion.  I have no doubt that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will do an outstanding job of testing by my patience and my compassion, so it won’t be easy, but I’m going to do my best to stay civil for the rest of this election season. Wish me luck.

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