1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2)
In 2009, Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis founded the Civility Project. They asked national politicians to sign a pledge: “I will be civil in my conduct. Respectful with others who disagree on issues. Call out incivility when I see it.” The project closed in 2011. Only three had signed.
Do any of these sound familiar? “You are a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic biggot!” “Those people deserve the treatment they get!” “That politician couldn’t tell the truth even if it bit her in the *#@&!.” “Let’s just go ahead and nuke the *#@&!”
Does it have to be this way?
It’s far too easy to bathe in the public sewer of incivility. We chuckle at nasty comments in social media or add our own clever remarks to others’ jabs. Other times we remain silent when we should engage in important conversations. We’re afraid to be labeled or bullied, online or in person.
Being profane seems easier for most than being profound, or commending knowledge gently.
Proverbs 15:1-2 dares us to check closely the words from our lips, pens, and keyboards. To consider how we stir up anger or gush folly. It also challenges our silences when advocacy for others or the sacred is timely. It spurs us to ask, “how do I react when people disagree with me?”
And “does my communication evaporate resentment and enhance learning”?
Offering a gentle answer born from wisdom flows from the person we are and the words we choose. Christ dealt with enemies directly, simply, truthfully. This is a good place to begin. Whether the Pharisee, tax collector, or sexually loose woman, Jesus listened closely. Answered real questions. Challenged with truth. And called sinners to be friends and disciples.
Time to sign your own Civility Project pledge – what say you?
Reflection: does my communication escalate tensions or promote calm and rational judgment? Am I civil and respectful toward individuals I dislike or disagree with?
Today’s challenge: find a comment aimed at you or others that is nasty or hurtful, or something you disagree with. Prepare a civil response that turns away wrath and increases knowledge. Send it.
-Elizabeth McLaughlin, Bethel University
* This devotional is included in a book of 365 devotionals on Christianity and Communication Studies, forthcoming, from Integratio Press. All Rights Reserved.