The Lost Practice of Civility

Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be made known to all. The Lord is near: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4: 4-8

This article is an outgrowth from my conversation with Mark Mallet after a podcast discussing how people are having a hard time emotionally and spiritually with the stress in our culture, and how people are now “losing it.” The word civility is an adjective that has several meanings, but its most prominent definition derives from the Latin civ/civilis meaning citizen, public live, civic order, and civil law pertaining to the affairs of state. Civil has to do with people and government and their affairs as opposed to military or religion. It has many synonyms such as courteous, affable, polite, thoughtful consideration of others, avoidance of rudeness, and friendliness. When the word is used in context, it has broad implications such as civil life, a civil society, affairs, liberties, disobedience, servant, war, society, law, matters, duty, et. al. Civil pretty much covers the spectrum of how our culture and civilization would ideally function, and not be barbarous. If used in the context of courteous, affable, and helpful, it is more easily understood. However, the deeper roots of the why and how it is practiced are found in the goodness of an individual’s heart toward others, and this is most often found in a person of faith who places value on virtue and another person. Thus, a reason greater than your own self-interest for the mutual good.

Over the last several generations this behavior has so seriously eroded, it has turned into the patina of a bygone era with many people in nearly all settings.
No matter where one goes today, there is often rudeness, a lack of courtesy, abrupt and curt speech. Due to generational issues with people not being formed in the faith today, there is a reckless disregard that is breeding an animalistic nature with people resorting to primal behavior that puts their own needs continuously above the needs of others. Self-donation and sacrifice are disappearing. This godless and overtly pagan agenda is breeding the anxiety and stress we see in our midst. Service and respect for others has largely gone out the window. The genesis of mass movements of people principally begins with frustration and feeling helpless. This feeling of frustration over time breeds unhappiness that there will ever be change unless some action is taken. That person holds a belief in a way to end frustrated malaise only through some political or social movement. That ideology is the kindling for violence as those people either justly or unjustly gather to effectuate their desired change. In time, revolutions take place and one need not be an historian to see the truth in that.

The word acedia has several meanings. One is “the lack of respect for spiritual things.” If one doesn’t respect anything to do with the Divine, why would they respect the things of man? The fact is, many don’t believe in God, and that is exactly why we are experiencing chaos around us. I first started to notice this many years ago as I would drive around large metropolitan areas. At crosswalks, I would notice people with their face looking down self-absorbed with their eyes glued to their phone walking and not looking at oncoming traffic. The person had no idea if the oncoming driver was on drugs, alcohol, weed, texting, or anything else. That cross walk was their right, and regardless of their own safety, they are saying, that crosswalk is about me and you need to pay attention to me and my rights.

This concept about individual selfishness and division, and the lack of concern for others is manifesting itself in more divisive and hostile ways. We are a divided culture where the views of others are increasingly not being tolerated no matter the subject or the setting. We are Red State, Blue State much in the same way during the American Civil War (1860-65), was fought between profoundly differing ideologies, that were then the blue and the gray. Family members in border states (not totally confined to border states) often fought on different sides during the American Civil War much in the same way we are seeing increasing family dysfunction over a myriad of social issues today — and those differences are not getting any smaller.

Segregation is increasingly taking place due to differing views. The number of divisive issues today are broader than in the past, with frayed nerves on a host of issues. The temperature is rising in thoughtlessness, brazen, careless, self- absorbed, callous, harsh, uncaring, unkind, insensitive, cruel, unfeeling, uncompassionate, and cold-hearted behavior. A person going out of their way for another is more and more a relic of the past as people rush towards their entertainment and social media devices providing satisfaction to their senses. This is just one reason why corporal works of mercy are less and less in our midst. For instance, would a person wear a MAGA hat or shirt in an inner city or to a Planned Parenthood convention. Or likewise wear a Biden button to NASCAR? Wearing a BLM hat or something as simple as flying an American flag at your home is expressing and ideology for others to make a decision to associate with you or not. Even the church you go to is sending signals to others they may ether approve of your views. Our life has drifted towards tribal association for safety, as there is safety in numbers in your community of thought.

People are congregating around those of like mind, and if someone senses the other is not one of them, there is marginalization all the way to being an outcast and excluded from employment. It reminds one of the Hindu culture from the Brahman’s to the outcast. It has quickly morphed to those stridently censorious and not wanting to be near each other, to venomous and vitriolic, if another does not share your world view. The thought of charity to another has pretty much been tossed in the trash bin with a great deal of the population. The places you go to, the restaurants, the social activities, where we congregate, all the way to what weddings we choose to attend is often largely based upon who we like or don’t like. If a believer sees a rainbow flag on the entrance to a restaurant, they’ll often find another place to patronize who share their views, and that door swings both ways for symbols rejected by the other side. This is the cancel culture at full gallop.

What is the root of this behavior? People feel safe when their institutions, family, government, and the Church, operate with some sort of efficacy and virtue, as God and man designed them within the commands, and statutes provided in Scripture, with functioning institutions for the benefit of mankind. As these structures deteriorate, there is a general sense of frustration. This frustration manifests itself in so many ways with people, and when there is a continued sore spot, there is often an eruption. This is precisely why people are losing their peace in what used to be normal everyday situations. Virtue was built into those concepts that gave man a structure to function in the world. A guidebook in essence operating inside boundaries that were meant to be a benefit for a civil society. When virtue is absent, we quickly find ourselves knee deep in vice—and that is exactly where we are today. Kindness is a virtue. It is effectively taught through observation and practice not in a classroom. Our behavior is uncharitable principally because people no longer feel safe. Everywhere we look, people know the systems that previously worked are collapsing and having no control they feel helpless. People are being tested to the limit and it will continue. It is why sticking to the fundamentals of the faith are so critical right now for emotional and spiritual survival.

Changing the World One Person at a Time
If one were to look at the method of Jesus and how He decided to change the world, it was pouring His life into just 12 men. Largely a group of 12 who knew little to nothing about the other. James and John as the Sons of Thunder were brothers, but largely they did not know each other coming from different backgrounds. They observed His behavior in adversity, how and what He taught, they saw how He answered questions, performed signs and wonders, and in a small group setting most often away from the masses. In those short three years those men were then equipped to take on the world with what they learned. Those 12 men in turn went into the world and changed every area they preached and taught. From a soul who knew little to transformed lives and when their time came to touch others. One on one discipleship based upon friendship and time together will be the only way to reverse this negative spiral. Friendship is the key to the beginning of a conversion process for most people and is essential in the art of discipleship. It is the way God Himself taught, and it is not understood today. People think large stadium settings can change people. It does not. The one-on-one touch with another knowing you care for their welfare is the method of Jesus. Jesus came for one reason, and one reason only — to transform hearts towards Him. There is a way to the heart of every person. When with a tough person not open to the Gospel, you have to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. This is where Saint Paul speaks about being all things to all people.

Many years ago, when I moved into a new neighborhood with my young family, we had a next door neighbor who was a cranky and very lonely old man. He was retired and his life’s dream was having the best lawn in the neighborhood. Every Sunday he cut his grass for hours. How it took that long, I never figured out, but it did. One beautiful Easter Sunday, with a large family gathering in my backyard, he cut the grass for several hours again. I politely asked him to be courteous and respectful to us and to the occasion of Easter Sunday. He in essence told me to drop dead. But, it was also obvious he was a deeply sad and discouraged man without an ounce of joy or any friends.

I knew he would be a tough nut to crack, so when we had about 40 inches of snow over three days (rare in Virginia), my kids and I went over to shovel his snow as he was unable. Over time he changed his habits, and when my son graduated from high school, he gave a cash gift to him and he told me we were the best neighbors he ever had. Yes, there is a way to people’s heart but you need to be creative, and service is always a good place to start.

Where does this end before violence erupts? At some point the more mature person must be open and bring up the divide to heal as a people, and a nation. There doesn’t seem to be any other option as the chasm will just continue to get wider and deeper. Kindness and gentleness are contagious. The more it is seen the human soul desires it. People were attracted to Jesus because they saw this in Him. This translates to a person willing to sacrifice their life for another. Where Jesus said, “unless the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it cannot bear fruit.” Until we try to build friendships on the many things we agree, there seems to be no place where the twain meet. It is the concept of the art of discipleship when around people of diverse or opposing views towards the gospel. Yes, a very difficult challenge that people must rise to lest we all perish at the hands of each other. Is this realistic? Yes. Building friendships where there is common ground and on the many things we agree, is the only way left to change the culture.

The world will never change unless we become the light of truth as the only Gospel they may see. Living the truth is our last remaining option. As Saint Francis of Assisi allegedly said (hotly debated), “Go out in the world and preach the gospel, and speak only if necessary.” God plus one is a majority.