Bishop's Blog

Lack of Civility

We have recently witnessed the Prime Minister's press secretary refer to the President of the United States as a “moron;”

It used to be the case that your word was your bond, one’s commit-ments were kept, and colleagues, even when on the opposite side of an issue, would be treated with dignity. Furthermore, authority was shown deference and manners helped make the pressures of the day bearable.

Today courtesy and civility are in short supply. These virtues designed to ensure peaceful and humane relationships are threatened by forces such as rage, raw ambition, selfish greed, by a lack of honesty and plain rudeness.

War has a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people and forcing us to look at some hard issues.

We have recently witnessed the Prime Minister’s press secretary refer to the President of the United States as a “moron;” an elected Member of Parliament call Americans “bastards;” and a Cabinet Minister refer to the President as “a failed statesman.” The acceptance of such behaviour is particularly troublesome. None of the above were censured and only the press secretary lost her job.

Whether any of these appellations have the ring of truth about them is not the issue. They all manifest incredibly bad form.

Such intemperate outbursts, however, are not the special preserve of Liberal politicians. The Leader of the Opposition has called the Prime Minister “a coward” and Defence Minister John McCallum an “idiot” and “clown.”

Michael Moore in his Oscar acceptance speech lambasted George W. Bush as a “fictitious president... sending us to war for fictitious reasons.”

The antiwar people at a Montreal Canadians hockey game booed the singing of the American National anthem, and on another occasion, heckled peewee hockey players from Massachusetts.

The French and the Germans are vilified by the hawkish pro-war advocates.

Antiwar demonstrators in France desecrated the graves of British soldiers from previous wars by spraying graffiti within the cemetery that read, “clean up your rubbish, it’s contaminating our soil.”

No nation or group seems to have a monopoly on bad manners.

Today, as we discover more and more the realities of our psyche and human relationships, feelings of dislocation, isolation, betrayal, meaninglessness, anger, and distress persist. What can we do with the resulting confusion, rage, misunderstanding, alienation and separation?

Vaclev Havel once pointed out that “...the salvation of the human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed-be it ecological, social, demographic, or a general break down of civilization-will be unavoidable.”

The threefold task of the formation, reformation, and the rescuing of the human heart from all its deformations demands building on the five foundations of civility.

First, self-respect. We honour ourself as a child of God, made in his image, his priceless work of art, endowed with inalienable rights and duties, destined for eternity. We treat ourself with extraordinary respect using only words and actions that are worthy of our birthright.

Second, respect for others. What I believe about myself, I believe about others and thus treat others as created in the image and likeness of God. Life itself is sacred. Every one of us matters. No person is defined by someone else’s choices, and no life exists only as a means to someone else’s ends. Technology serves life and does not master it.

Third, society survives, prospers and fulfils its purpose if it is well ordered by virtue and responsibility. There is an inherent solidarity among us all. The family is the unit of society that is most essential to the common good we all serve. Concern for the other and the wider community is part of ordered living.

Fourth, true freedom is the right to do what we ought, not what we want. Without ethics and morality, democracy can easily become totalitarian.

Fifth, gratitude. Gratitude moves us to acknowledge that everything is gift of God, allows us to live comfortably with indebtedness to God and others, and to overcome inordinate tendencies to independence. It flows naturally from learning early in life how and when to say “please and thank you.”

St. Francis of Assisi observed: “Realize, dear brothers and sisters, that courtesy is actually one of the properties of God, who gives his sun and rain to the just and the unjust out of courtesy; and courtesy is the sister of charity, by which hatred is vanquished and love is cherished.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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