There are virtues and then there are virtues. Here’s one you don’t see a lot of today: civility. In a world in which instant information, instant messages, instant solutions and instant gratification are not only expected but presumed and, indeed, required, precious little room and time are left for the virtue of civility. Like the virtues of meekness and humility in human interactions, civility — when observed or detected — is often mistaken for weakness. It is, sad to say, more often mocked than valued.
As president of a university identified so clearly with the Catholic Church, I receive more than my fair share of exposure to the lack of civility. Instead of asking questions or raising issues or voicing concerns, some people are just not satisfied until they brutally rub your nose in their view of reality, leaving your senses reeling.
Why is it so easy today to forget that there is a human being on the other end of the conversation or letter or e-mail or phone call? Where did basic respect, politeness and civility go? Whoever decided that it is good to be cruel or unkind in the expression of an opinion? Whoever decided that there are no longer boundaries to be observed, rules to be followed, courtesy to be shown in the articulation of a point of view? Are we at that point in human existence when “I” has so totally replaced “we” that the common good has ceased to be a compelling foundation for life together in this world and a goal to be pursued? Since when am “I” always right and everyone else always wrong? The topics people bring up may range from the sublime to the ridiculous but they are all treated the same, with no distinction, no gradation of importance, no recognition of what really matters, no sense of “the other,” not to mention no sense of humor — that precious quality which, along with intellect and free will, distinguish human beings from animals.
Civility is not only a virtue that reveals good citizenship — it is also a virtue that reveals good Christianity and good humanity. Maybe people just tire of “turning the other cheek” so much; maybe they grow weary of forgiving “seventy times seven times”; and maybe, just maybe, people think there is another meaning to Jesus’ great command to “love one another as I have loved you.” No one ever said it would be easy. Certainly, our Lord did not when he cautioned, “Enter through the narrow gate.” A little civility in life and in human relationships would go a long way, even if it is only a first step. The time has come for everyone to take that step for a change.
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