Hillary Clinton has thrown more fuel on an already raging fire. In a recent interview, she stated very plainly that until the left has power again, they cannot be civil. If not for the fact that this advice will be followed by many to extreme ends, I’d just laugh at the extreme irony of saying “after I beat you up, I’ll be nice to you.”
Well, I think there is a better way, the way of Jesus Christ namely. It’s a way that involves loving your enemies, praying for those that persecute you, and making a reasonable case for your beliefs with gentleness and respect. For the level headed Americans that remain, here are three ways you can still be civil in an age of incivility.
The profound lack of listening today is probably both the greatest source of frustration and anger and also the easiest problem to fix. Just shut up. Seriously, learn to shut up. You don’t always have to run your mouth. Instead, listen to your opponent. Listen without the goal of correction. Listen with the goal of understanding. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something. You’ve been wrong before. Perhaps you are wrong now. What have you got to lose? At the very least, after you have truly listened to your opponent, you will understand better how to proceed in persuading them that their position is flawed in some way. But truth be told, the greatest thing that comes from listening isn’t convincing, it’s compassion. It is easy to hate ideas. It is not as easy to hate an individual. And when you listen and listen well, you are able to hear the person along with their position. This leads to unity and productive conversations. I know it’s a novel idea, but you should give listening a try.
Everybody today is an expert. That is of course sarcasm. The truth is that everybody thinks they are an expert. However, very few can actually explain their beliefs if it requires more than 144 characters or a picture. Personal beliefs today have a profound lack of depth that stems from a deterioration of critical thinking. Beliefs are formed from pop culture more than reasoned thinking and meaningful reflection, and many accept simply what feels good rather trying to discern what is good. The solution is knowledge. A fundamental component of civil discourse is accurate knowledge of both your position and your opponents. If you cannot explain why your position is true, you are not allowed to talk about it. And I’ll take it a step further. If you do not know why your opponent thinks their position is the correct one, you are not allowed to attack it. I know this is a novel idea, but if you don’t have anything good to say because you don’t know what the heck you are talking about, you ought not say anything at all.
Find a way to love your political opponent. They are in your neighborhood, workplace, school, and church. Now, don’t misunderstand my point here. I think listening to your opponent and learning more about the relevant issues of our time is an act of love. If you do just the above two points, you will have given a great gift to this world. But let’s go a bit further. Go out of your way this week to be kind and serve those that disagree with you. Instead of spending all your mental energy plotting how to belittle your enemy with a clever meme, think instead how you can build them up. They are struggling with life just like you are. Their finances are in trouble. They are suffering broken relationships in their family. They have just received news that their child has cancer. But, hey, feel free to attack their character because they disagree with you on a political issue. Kick them while they are down. Or, be humble and serve them. I’ll let you choose.
This is a time for us all to follow the example of Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited, but humbled himself by taking the form of a servant. And as a servant, He died on the cross in order to purchase our redemption. Let us all live in this manner, a manner worthy of the gospel, and let us all be civil even to those not worthy of it.
Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, a writer, and a speaker. Booking info and such can be found at michaelcsherrard.com.