On Giants' Shoulders

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Death of Civility

It sometimes seems to me that we've learned too many lessons from nasty stand up comics in the past couple of decades. The sort of humor that attacks men, or attacks women, or attacks mother's-in-law, or teenaged children, etc. has become more and more common everywhere. There is a sense in which we can identify with the frustrations, but it sometimes leads to a radical lack of charity and civility. Then the people being attacked strike back. Blogging seems to bring out the very worst in some people.

Earlier this year I spent a fair amount of time at one website. A discussion ensued in which one of the commenters got really vile as he told me in not so nice language to "shut up." The person who owned the board did nothing to correct him, so I stopped going there and I took the link to that site off my blog. There are enough places (like Danielle Bean's site) where civility is expected, that I don't really feel like spending my time at places where it isn't.

I think that this even spills out into "real life." This is really sad because we already live in a society where people seem more and more separated from each other and less and less charitable to each other. The drive to watch out for number one may start in rush hour, but it frequently spills over into the rest of our lives. We've spent 40+ years now worrying about minority rights and public expression of discrimination, but it doesn't seem to have made us behave more politely to each other. I didn't live in the south during the pre-civil rights era and I'm sure that there was discrimination going on, but it sometimes seems that there was also more civility then than there is now. Women aren't better off for having attacked men in endless diatribes, all that's happened is that the men have responded in kind. Minorities of all kinds are not better off for having verbally attacked the majority. They may have secured some rights, but their rhetoric has earned a lot more hatred. We do have to fight against things that are wrong, but we have to do it by attacking ideas, not by attacking persons. We need to reason with people, not tell them to shut up. We need to continue to practice compassion and forgiveness, often when someone doesn't even deserve it.

That may sound like Pollyanna speaking, but the result of taking to heart the biting satire of stand-up comedians and even some internet humorists has not been pretty. Some things are simply better left unsaid, sometimes it truly is better to offer it up just one more time. After all Jesus's teaching was: If your enemy thirst, give him drink..." and as far as forgiving a brother the advice was "seventy times seven." We were also admonished not to call our brother a fool. Seems like Jesus was in favor of kindness and civility rather than mean spirited satire.

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