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The Civility Challenge: Part 1

Okay, want to know what really worries me? Not hyper-inflation or national default, not global warming or even Islamic terrorists. Don't get me wrong--all of these are sobering and cause me concern. However, Americans have faced--and conquered--worse challenges in the past and I  believe that our united efforts could win the day against the litany of our current woes.

The thing that really scares me is the "united" part. I worry that we, as a country, are becoming so deeply polarized and divided that uniting on much of anything will prove to be impossible.

I have strong convictions on our whole range of current issues, and I'm convinced I'm right (if I weren't, then I'd have different opinions, right?). I'm not advocating that we pretend we don't have opinions or differences. That's nothing new. American history is full of spirited, sharp-elbowed discussion, even contention. But still, in the past, when push came to shove, we were generally able to rally around a common cause and find our fundamental commonalities as Americans.

This is, I fear, fading. We see every issue through partisan lenses--again not new, necessarily. But what is new, as least in my opinion, is that there is a louder and louder yelling at each other rather than an honest debate and exchange of ideas. We have heated, knock-down, drag-out presidential elections where we pursue a scorched earth policy against opponents. 51% of the people vote for a candidate and immediately, the other 49% start doing every thing they can to diminish and demean the person who won. Liberals did it to Bush and Conservatives are doing it to Obama--and each side believes they are absolutely justified. Perhaps, perhaps not, but carried to it's logical end, isn't this the recipe for chaos eventually?

I'm worried that we are slowly, surely, and consistently shredding the fabric of our body politic, the common bonds that transcend our political differences. I worry that we may somehow solve all our problems--only to find that we are essentially two nations with irreconcilable differences.

One of the glories of America is the fact that people of all religions, races, creeds, and backgrounds were historically able to find a common identity or at least portions of a common identity. In the Venn diagram of our national character, there were historically a few overlapping areas.

Now, it seems like there are fewer ovelapping areas. That's where civility comes in.

In my opinion, civility and respect are the glue that can hold us together when we encounter the gaps in the Venn diagram--the places we don't have anything in common.

But instead, we have moved from disagreeing with each other's opinions and ideas to demonizing each other's intentions.

Civility, I hasten to add, has to be a real, two-way street. It has been recently abused--grossly so--as a club to beat one's political opponents. Civility is good sauce for the goose and gander. And let's be honest: both sides employ rhetoric that is over the top.

Civility, in addition to being a Christian virtue I think everyone should strive for, is simultaneously a mark of confidence and humility. The civil citizen is confident in his ideas--he doesn't need bombast to make a point because he believes his ideas are superior. But he is also humble enough to realize that his best opinion may still miss something and that his greatest wisdom is still human and therefore fallible.

So, I'm starting a civility challenge. I'm going to take it, and I'm inviting anyone else who is concerned about the future to take it, too. I'm going to suggest some baby-steps for increasing civility in our day-to-day lives.

Be warned, though. It's not as easy as it sounds. As I've been trying to do this, I am surprised at how hard it is--how counter-intuitive and challenging. But it's very satisfying. I haven't changed my opinions, but they feel cleaner, healthier, and less toxic and I feel better about expressing them. Tune in next time for the suggestions since this post is already too long.


Braden Bell is a husband, father, director, teacher, and writer. The author of The Road Show, Braden blogs at

Photo Credit: Dennis Agle, Mormon Daddy Blogs

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