top of page

Towards a More Civil Society

Rev. James Trapp

It was a war of words between prominent national news host Joy Reid from AM Joy and an entertainer/activist known as Killer Mike. (I know, not the most inspiring name in the world.) Mr. Mike believed that when Joy and friends posed on Instagram, they were supporting a company that was racially biased. Their disagreement took place on Twitter for the entire world to see.

In many respects the beef wasn’t unusual. It was merely a reflection of the uncivil discourse that seems to be more prevalent today due to the explosion of social media.

Uncivil words between people and groups seem to be everywhere—whether it’s the rancorous attacks between members of different political parties, the mocking of a student survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Valentine’s Day or malicious backlash directed toward those who criticized the Philadelphia Starbucks for what appeared to be unconscious (or conscious) bias toward two men who were arrested for merely waiting for a friend.

I overheard a spirited discussion (ironically, in a Starbucks) in which one person expressed dismay at the lack of respectful discourse and civility in today’s politics. She noted that although there have been uncivil words between politicians from opposing parties throughout history, today’s rhetoric appears to be more divisive than ever.

One individual spoke about a former president who sought to extend a conciliatory hand to those with a different point of view. The president was new in office. It was at the apex of the Vietnam War. There was a lot of social unrest. The president at the time used one of his speeches to call for a return to greater civility in the national conversation and noted, “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another.”

His observation is clearly appropriate in the times we are going through today. There seems to be unrelenting shouting and a lack of civility from influential people that trickles down to, and perhaps reflects the consciousness of, a portion of the rest of society. Celebrities, journalists and political figures attack each other with incendiary words and polarizing rhetoric. Often their words heighten intolerance, as well as potentially instigating violence and serving as a substitute for reasoned disagreement.

There is a statement in Proverbs 18:21 that says, “Life and death are found in the power of the tongue.” Our words have power. Even seemingly idle words we speak or write for public consumption have consequences. What we express about and toward our fellow beings on the planet can tear down rather than build up. It fragments our shared identity as spiritual beings and clouds the realization of our oneness.

Nevertheless, there is always something we can to do turn the tide on the divisive words we hear from public figures and help bring forth a more civil society. Such as:

  • Follow the advice of Christian mystic St. Francis of Assisi: “grant that I may not so much seek… to be understood, as to understand.” When we put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we can find merit in their viewpoint even if we don’t agree. We stop seeing people as opponents, and see them simply as a part of the spectrum of the human/spiritual family of which we are all a part.

  • Challenge ideas and don’t attack the person. It’s OK to have different points of view on a matter. At the same time, we realize that a person is not their point of view; that person’s true identity is a child of God.

  • When dialoging with others, do so with the purpose of expanding consciousness.

  • Never talk about how “bad” things are to anyone, unless you are seeking to raise consciousness about the spiritual idea or opportunity behind the appearance.

Joy Reid invited Killer Mike to come on her show. They realized there was a breakdown in communication due to a misinterpretation of a photograph of Joy with two other women. (Mike thought when Joy mentioned H&M it referred to a clothing company he found offensive. Actually H&M meant “hair and makeup.”) Mike apologized, Joy accepted his apology and they had a conversation in which they both had a better understanding of one another. They found common ground where they did agree on the issue of guns in society. It was a model of possibilities for how to have a civil conversation on a controversial subject.

When more and more people speak and express words that reflect “the better angels of our nature,” the most important voices will be from those who do not shout, but listen and seek to understand. They then speak or write words with the intent to bring about the greater good. When that happens, we increase the understanding of people everywhere.

Peace and Blessings,



Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page