Keep It Civil

“Politically Correct” – it has become an oxymoron the likes of which demands some new term that expresses the intention of keeping our discourse such that opposing ideas can be shared, debates can be had, new information that may be hurtful to some can be offered – and no one leaves the room ready to go on strike, instigate a protest, get someone fired, or otherwise incite an individual or a group to violence.

No wonder the phrase is taking so many shots these days. And the phrase itself is the evidence of how language is like ice – slippery, and capable in and of itself to shape the landscape of ideas, opinions and feelings. Some have suggested that “PC” is simply a complicated way of talking about what it means to be “civil”. Walter E. Fluker believes that “Civility” is a necessary thread in the fabric of social discourse, essential if communication has any chance of moving us toward community.

The need for “PC” arose as civility in public discourse waned. Certain things suggesting a moral lapse were kept under the table by the media as a nod toward the notion that the public doesn’t need to know everything. JFK’s antics were not discussed; Bill Clinton’s escapades were served with breakfast every morning. Not only was it “not nice” to do such things; it was considered “not nice” to talk about them. Those days are gone. Was the part of the social contract used to insure a measure of privacy dismantled from above, at the level of those with political or celebrity status? Or was it dismantled from below by we common folk looking for something sensational, or radio hosts looking to boost their ratings?

We have a plethora of “social media”. I’m not so sure we have much by way of “civil media”. From the bullying of the vulnerable teenager to the braggadocio of politicians enamored of the size of their own whatever, to channel Kramer in his gaberdine trousers, “We’re out there now, and we’re lovin’ every minute of it! Or are we? The teenage victim? Not so much.

In the Seinfeld episode there is clear evidence of revulsion to being in close proximity to what ought to be held at bay, kept protected, left without any description and, in fact, with no one having any desire even to imagine. We all have a pretty clear idea of what lies beneath the clothing; do we need to talk about it? Whether or not we “need” to, some want to – talk about it, post it, exaggerate it. All to the point where the truth doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Do we even know how to speak our truth? Do we see the irony of living in an environment where “Open Carry” is allowed, even encouraged, but we can’t offer a word of criticism, constructive or otherwise, because quite frankly, we are better at taking shots than talking shop.

With all that has been written and said, lamented and celebrated about how “open” everything is, we are experiencing societal whiplash. We DO have opinions, ideas, and yes – burdens and fears. We aren’t always absolutely clear about what we deeply believe before we say what we think at that moment. Civility has to happen at both ends of a dialogue, beginning with the expressed desire to have a dialogue in the first place. Public personalities and those of us on the street might heed the potential power of the proverb: A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Perhaps “PC” has run the course of its usefulness as a phrase; but what it is meant to represent is timeless. The fact is language is where the pressures we experience within meet the forces of the experiences of the other. Whatever else “civility” means, it insists that my truth is not spoken as an immovable object, all the while hoping the experiences of the other will not be encountered as an unstopable force. Call it what you will, communication that is truly honest, open, challenging or affirming such that it invites and then welcomes the other is the exhausting task each one of us is called to.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.