Graphic by Evelyn Lee
A few years ago, there was a campus conversation about whether we prize civility too much over robust disagreement. The line is fine and important. In fact, I value both and hope to contribute to a university campus where strong, carefully articulated positions are placed in conversation with confidence and vigor. As with most things, however, there is a fairly logical point at which advocacy crosses the line and becomes less valuable and more threatening in nature.
We cannot aspire to speak always with one voice or to agree on all things, but we should seek to find a standard of debate and discourse in all matters that does not chill the participation of others and is not designed to merely silence opposition. Is it silence that we want? Moreover, is it silence that advances learning in community? I do not think so.
Moving well beyond the college campus, one cannot help but be discouraged by the shrill and embarrassing verbiage being used to position political platforms and tear down the opposition. When truth is used as a fungible commodity to achieve political ends, I feel incredibly tired and discouraged. Some delight in that behavior and cheer, but I simply cannot, for new lows are hard to celebrate. Is there an end in sight to this silliness, or have we established a new normative state for political suasion?
Frankly, I do not care much for intramural argument just for the sake of argument, especially if conducted at high volume and with sharp rhetoric; I never have, as it always seems to have a large load of hubris in attendance. I distance myself from bombast and histrionics and gravitate much more easily toward logic and careful thought.
I ran across a phrase recently that I like very much: convicted civility. As soon as I saw those two words together I knew immediately and exactly what they meant. I admire strong convictions presented fairly and without elements of ad hominem attack in pursuit of truth and, even, fairness and justice. Lutheran scholar Martin Marty once said, “People these days who are civil often lack strong convictions, and people with strong religious convictions often are not very civil. What we need is convicted civility.” The time has come for convicted civility in all things.
I have held these personal thoughts for the past few weeks, uncertain if they would add much to any conversation. While I cannot precisely define the phrase convicted civility, I know what it means to me. It means that we can hear and process words with which we do not agree and that we can be unafraid to refute them with truth, courage and confidence. It means that as we encounter new thinking and information, that we are free to ask hard questions and to pursue answers to questions important to us. Questions should not be threatening, and answers should not be unassailable when given. Steel sharpens steel in the dialectic of learning and living.
I held onto these thoughts until this past weekend when I attended Songfest and listened to the closing song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” It gets me every time I must confess, I have heard that song for as long as I can remember, but in this particular year, the closing line sticks in my head: And let it begin with me. Indeed, as a Christian participating in the rhetoric of this important campaign year, in the complicated issues related to race, sexual orientation, and justice for all, let peace begin with me. Let it begin with me.
Follow the Pepperdine Graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic