On October 21, 2018 I launched a Facebook page “Civil Words Not Civil War”; here’s why. My instinct, for whatever number of reasons, is to fight, lash out, and smash things. I don’t admit this with pride, these instincts have cost me, but I have reveled in the sensation of my hand, balled into a fist, punching something, feeling the object shatter with my will and force. It’s been a long time since I hit another person. Decades ago. High school years. As with drugs and alcohol, when I was seventeen I left violence, and my engagement with it, in my shadow. But the thing about a shadow is the only time you can’t step away from it is in the dark. Many things in our world are dark. In the light of day the shadows bleed themselves into places that deserve the light; civility is one of those precious realms becoming overwhelmed by shadow. And within that shadow, I have become angry. I have wanted to lash out, curl my hand into a fist and throw it, welcoming new scars and the satisfaction of a fight. And so, as shadows creep across us, I have to fight myself first of all. I have to be civil.
I wasn’t sure where or how or what to do. My voice is but one and with it most of the time I sing in a congregation of like-minded people. I feel the anger and despair of this congregation. I belong to no church, but the world, and the world is angry. I can accept the anger, and vocalize my opinions, and do so with respect for others that, though they feel differently about the world than I do, has beliefs that lead them.
Several weeks ago I began to notice posts on Facebook that claimed fact, or portrayed themselves as true, or contained images with captions that I could not believe were accurate. It seemed that these posts originated from one Facebook page in particular. I sought the page out, and requested to join. The administrators required that an allegiance to one particular group be made as a condition of being accepted as a member. I submitted a message with my request to join and stated that I did not support that particular group in the majority of their causes, but wished to join the group so I could respectfully contribute counter information when I felt it was important to do so.
To my surprise, I was allowed to join the group. What I found there terrified me. So, I withdrew. Then I thought about it some more, and joined again. During my second stint I had some productive conversations from individuals in all corners of the United States, and even Europe. The last string of conversations was not productive. It kept me up at night. My wife asked me to take our address off our website. I know now, that there are people out there that are literally preparing for war. Civil War.
The last person I engaged with, as civilly as I could, (who I suspect was attempting to engage me in the same manner) wrote, “if we can’t express our views here, where can we?” The truth is, this person is right. The next day I was banned from the group. Maybe there were complaints to the administration? I don’t have an answer.
I became so angry. And I still am. And with that anger I decided I needed to take action. For me, yelling won’t do anything, yelling and screaming and cussing at others only increases division between us, causes others to scream back, lessens my ability to listen and in the end, only I will get hurt.
As I reflected on the shadows that have pushed their way across our human landscape I decided that I would lay my wager down on civility. But I won’t throw a punch. I will encourage. I will be respectful. I will attempt to offer civil words in exchange for the same. And I will vote, although civil words need to be cultivated, nourished and given light to flourish, long beyond elections, long beyond my lifetime. Long beyond my son’s lifetime. I will teach him to offer the civil word.
All of these decisions weigh on me, as there are others out there that will fight and punch and scream. I have chosen sides. I hate to think I am diminishing the fire that my like-minded friends have. I understand that my actions might increase divides with unforeseen consequences. But, my friends, I know we need you. I need you. The human landscape needs you. And I hope we are victorious.
And still, civil words will be my path. Civil Words Not Civil War.