Public Blog: Decline of Civility
Have you been on Facebook today? If so, what did you see in your newsfeed? If it’s anything like my newsfeed, you would have seen pages of witty posts that are borderline rude and degrading. Perhaps you saw a new meme mocking President Obama, or a photo shopped picture mocking a particular religious group. Do we participate and support these posts? More importantly, what does this say about our characters as individuals and collectively, as a country?
Forgive me if the topic of civility seems weighted and overwhelming, but it is something that has been on my mind this past week, and something that I feel is necessary to discuss. So if you would be so kind, please continue reading.
John Locke, an English philosopher, defined civility as, “That general good will and regard for all people, which makes any one have a care not to show, in his carriage, any contempt, disrespect, or neglect of them.” Along with this, Thomas Jefferson said that civility is “one of the preservatives of our peace and tranquility” and ranked it “of first rate value.” I wholeheartedly agree that civility should be one of the highest concerns in today’s society, yet, that is not what I see when I look on the internet. With the increasing accessibility of technology, I would argue that the general trend of civility has decreased. It’s as if talking to a person via texting or Facebook chat, rather than face-to-face, justifies saying rude or overly sarcastic things. The pattern may go something like this: a friend sends you a text that makes fun of you a little bit, you think for 5 minutes of the wittiest comment you can conjure up to backfire, you send the text and revel in your own genius for a while, then your friend reads it, gets offended, and never talks to you again. Okay, so maybe that’s a little overdramatic, but you get the picture. I will not pretend that I am perfectly civil all day every day, because that is a horrible lie. I have had similar texting experiences like the one just discussed, and let me tell you, it’s a horrible situation to be in. It’s easier to just be considerate of others’ feelings, as you may not know the personal trials that people are going through, and how your seemingly innocent comment can add on to their trials even more.
One of the topics discussed in my Book of Mormon class this semester was the mistake that Captain Moroni made of threatening the Chief Judge, Pahoran. Moroni was not receiving any support for his troops, so he wrote an epistle to Pahoran that if he did not hurry and send provisions, he would kill Pahoran himself. Moroni did not know that Zarahemla was being overrun by the Lamanites, and therefore, Pahoran could not send any help. In reply to his epistle, and considered by myself as one of the greatest displays of character, Pahoran said, “In your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:9). Pahoran’s response to Moroni is such a great example of civility! I do not think that I would be so kind in my response. How would you respond to a similar situation? In today’s world, it is quite unlikely that you will ever be a censured chief judge like Pahoran, but what if someone degraded your religion…or your culture? Would you respond like Pahoran?
One of my favorite church history stories deals with the President of the original Quorum of the Twelve, Thomas B. Marsh. Marsh left the church at one point in his life due to some disagreements with Joseph Smith, and he went so far as to send an affidavit to Governor Wilburn W. Boggs of Missouri which stated that Joseph Smith was trying to take over the entire United States of America. Marsh wanted to get back at Joseph, and he was quite successful at it. That letter was one of the main reasons why Boggs later issued the infamous Mormon extermination order. Marsh stayed away from the Saints, and wandered throughout various states for years. Fast forward to a general conference in the Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young presented Thomas B. Marsh to the Saints and asked for a vote for Marsh’s re-admittance into the church. There was not a single right hand in the entire congregation that was not raised. Despite the various persecutions that Marsh inflicted upon the Saints, they unanimously welcomed him back. That is how we should act. That is the true spirit of civility.
3 Nephi 14:5 reads, “First cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Let us first improve our own civility towards others, and then we can help others in their quest for improvement. Let us do our individual parts to perfect this great nation.