In our Faith in Action book, The Seat of the Soul, author Gary Zukav notes, “The center of the evolutionary process is choice.” The words we use are an important part of the engine of our evolution. This applies to us individually and as a collective community.
Lately, you may have noticed that the words being hurled around our political arena have taken on an increased level of incivility. This is not new. History buffs will tell you that in 1804 the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, killed the former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Fortunately, such extreme behavior did not become the norm and more considerate decorum toward others prevailed.
However, a recent period of relative decency seems to have ended and uncivil words—if not behavior—seem more insidious and widespread than ever. I recall six or seven years ago, former Congressman Jim Leach was so concerned about the growing challenge of incivility in politics that that he embarked on a 50-state “American Civility Tour” meant to raise awareness of the issue around the nation. Despite his efforts, it appears the situation has gotten a lot worse.
Action matters. So do our words. As it says in one scriptural reference, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Words consist not only of sound but also vibration that sets in motion our experiences and creates the reality that surrounds us.
This is particularly so when the words come from political leadership. They set the tone and direction of the national consciousness. As former President George W. Bush noted in a recent speech, uncivil language “provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children.” He went on to note that if we are to pass along the high values we are capable of, they must be lived by our political leaders as well as by each of us.
While we know we are one in the spirit, on the surface level, incivility contributes to a broader fragmentation and separation in our world. Civility is rooted in the Latin word for “citizen”—civis—and carries with it a shared sense of our spiritual identity. When there is a rise in incivility, there is a weakening of that shared identity.
Although Congressman Leach’s Civility Tour did not fix the problem, there is hope. We can choose what we say. When we speak to others who hold a different point of view, our words can contribute to our upward evolution.
A few days ago, many people were comforted by the sight of five former presidents walking together in a Houston arena. They came together to raise money for hurricane relief to support those affected by the storms in Florida, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Despite the fact that some of them campaigned hard to defeat the others in their runs to the presidency and often disagreed on policy and outlook, they all get along now without the incivility pervading the current political climate. Some of them are close friends. They are models of how to disagree with civility and class.
We can make the same choice. When we do, we evolve to express the better angels of our nature.
Peace and Blessings,