Friday, November 16, 2007

A Civil Agitation

So, is civility a Christian value or a taming of Christian values?
The louder and coarser the public discourse becomes the more frequent come the calls for a return to civility. A piece in this morning's Post notes that an "elegant woman of patrician bearing" asked John McCain the other day about how he would "beat the bitch." Some folks are jumping on McCain for not chastising the woman about her public rudeness.
Perhaps it's time for the political classes to reread George Washington's rules for civility; although I'm not sure what to make of this one, the beginning of rule #27: "'Tis ill manners to bed one more eminent than yourself ...". (OK, I believe that must have been a typo on the web version, but it's worth considering as a general rule for civility nonetheless!)
Of course, reading George's rules -- typos notwithstanding -- should serve as a reminder that the lack of civility in public political discourse is nothing new under the sun.
Indeed, I suspect that calls for civility are sometimes nothing more than the protests of the privileged and powerful when their privilege and power are called into question. Speaking truth to power sometimes sounds rude.
As Frederick Douglas put it, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
Even when one speaks the truth in love, when it is spoken to power on behalf of the powerless, it will be interpreted by some as a breach of civility.

1 comment:

yo sistah said...

Old George's last one is his best one:

110 Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

There don't seem to be too many public figures who have kept that spark alive, more's the pity for the rest of us.