A Note on Civility

in Opinion by
The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact clarion@bethel.edu.
By Micah Latty

The debate between the College Republicans and College Democrats last Wednesday opened with a short video extolling students to civility, and throughout the debate the panelists appeared cautious not to appear uncivil. 

micah

This is a good thing. Speaking calmly about political disagreement contributes more to healthy community than quarreling or simply refusing to engage in conversation.

However, I’m concerned that niceness — a counterfeit imitation of goodness, kindness and generosity — is easily mistaken for civility. Niceness can prevent true conversation  in the context of our real and serious disagreements. Being ‘nice’ can prevent us from clearly stating our beliefs, resulting in unclear and dishonest dialogue.


We disagree about many things.

Some believe that Trump is misogynistic, xenophobic and racist. Many believe he is utterly and uniquely unfit for the presidency. Others believe that Hillary Clinton is more deserving of a prison cell than the Oval Office.

Some believe that police brutality is a serious threat to black lives—especially young male black lives. Others believe that that threat is either fabricated or exaggerated and that unfounded accusations endanger the police. 

Some believe that climate change is an imminent threat to the survival of humanity, not to mention national security and environmental flourishing. Others allege political motivations behind climate science and are concerned about the economic consequences of government regulation of fossil fuels—economic consequences that they believe threaten the lives and livelihoods of the global poor.

Some believe that the government has a duty to provide, e.g., health insurance. Others believe that various forms of welfare are fiscally irresponsible and, in the long term, lead to greater levels of poverty.

Some believe that abortion is murder. Others believe that restrictions on abortion are tyrannical, placing women’s health and well-being in jeopardy. 

Some believe that LGBT+ rights (e.g., gay marriage) are obvious goods justified by logic similar to that employed by the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Others believe that some of these changes will accelerate the weakening of the family and harm children in the process.

Some believe that by failing to properly vet Syrian refugees, we place ourselves at unnecessary risk of terrorist attack. Others believe that overly restrictive immigration policies endanger the lives of the orphan and the widow. 

Etc., etc.[1]


These disagreements are not dry academic disputes; they have grave, real-world effects on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In order to have honest, constructive dialogue about such weighty topics, we must walk a narrow, winding path between boorish incivility and impotent niceness.

I am left with only fragments of a solution:

… something about a speck in your neighbor’s eye, loving your enemies, and outdoing one another in showing honor. Another bit about boasting in Christ and in Christ alone; another about a body made up of many parts.

… something about being transformed by the renewal of our minds into the likeness of the One who admonished us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

… something about a Lion and Lamb who is not safe, but good.


[1] Of course, many of us find ourselves caught in the middle on some if not all of these issues, torn between conflicting convictions and motivations. I, for one, am often dragged off in one direction by my head and another by my heart. I’m rarely able to tell which is which.

1 Comment

  1. Keep writing! You definitely have a gift. I read your essay, “Welcoming Silence”, which won you a scholarship. I just wanted to send a little encouragement your way.
    May God continue to bless you.

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