Tuesday, May 15, 2007, Observation:
I have had a little sinus infection for about a week which thankfully has now been cleared up. During that time my head has felt about the size of a lead basketball. It has been hard to think creatively, read, or even work much on the computer so I have watched more TV than normal. Through this I have become more painfully aware than I usually am of the lack of "civility" that exists amongst us -- or that at least is portrayed to us through television programming.
According to the dictionary, "civility" is: "a : civilized conduct; especially : courtesy, politeness, b : a polite act or expression." Most of what I see in the media is the direct opposite of "civility" as defined above. President Hinckley has spoken out frequently regarding the lack of "civility" in our society. "... The lack of it [civility] is seen in the endless barrage of faultfinding and criticism spewed forth by media columnists and commentators. Lack of civility is often the cause of death and injury on the highway. It is the smirk of arrogance worn by many who think themselves superior in intellect, in riches, in station in life. Oh, how we need to cultivate a greater measure of civility in our society. ("Codes and Covenants," BYU 1994-95 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, October 18, 1994, p. 38.)
My dad came from another era. He was not formally educated and worked as a miner and at related jobs for Kennecott Copper Corp. Nevada Mines Division for over 40 years of his life. However, he innately understood what it meant to be "civil" -- polite, courteous, having "good manners" which reflected "good breeding." He wore work clothes every day and carried a lunch bucket, but on Sunday he put on a beautiful blue suit -- the only one he owned -- a spotless white shirt, a beautiful tie, and shiny black shoes. He knew that going to Church was special and this was his way of showing respect for the Lord, and without knowing it, his "civility." He always spoke reverently and almost in a worshipful manner, of Church leaders, and others that had accomplished great things in their lives and were worthy of respect. Because of him and his example, to this day, I find it extremely difficult to call any released church leader I have known or worked with by their first name; for some reason it just doesn't feel right.
The way we dress, the way we speak, our courtesy and politeness to others, all reflect our "good breeding" or lack thereof. I suppose I am more offended by crude language than by almost any other thing. It is so mindless, so little and low, and so unthinking. In an earlier age, great men used great words, even in insulting those they may not have liked. I love these great insults given by Winston Churchill to some he didn't especially care for: "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." And then in speaking of another acquaintance he described him as: "A modest little person, with much to be modest about." Apparently he and the playwright George Bernard Shaw did not always see eye to eye and history records this exchange between the two: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." -- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill -- "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."-- Winston Churchill, in response --
As I read history it is apparent that all great civilizations that have fallen had lost their civility at some previous time, and because of it were ripe for destruction. One cannot study what happened in Nazi Germany for example, without becoming painfully aware that all civility was eventually lost -- politeness, respect, courtesy, and then any form of human kindness which resulted in millions of people being needlessly slaughtered.
It would be kind of nice to be able to turn on the TV without instantly being offended by something. I don't find that happening very often and even in a good baseball game the commercials leave so much to be desired. If what the media is giving us is what the majority of Americans really want, it is most disturbing to me.
There are many great examples of civility from history. For example, on one occasion, General Robert E. Lee was asked for his opinion of a military colleague. Lee replied very openly and generously, after which the questioner said in effect, "Well, he doesn't speak so highly of you." General Lee replied: "Sir, you have asked me for my opinion of him not his opinion of me." (See Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give the Experience, , 78-79)
I believe civility is a mark of our character. I believe great men with great character treat others with civility. Churchill and Neville Chamberlain never ever agreed about Nazi Germany's threat to Great Britain before the outbreak of World War II. They were bitterly opposed to one another regarding this and many other issues. Churchill had once described Chamberlain as looking at foreign affairs through a "municipal drain pipe." However, at the time of Chamberlain's death Churchill said of him, "In one of the supreme crises of the world [our colleague was] contradicted by events." He went on to praise Chamberlain by saying: "The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions... With this shield,... we march always in the ranks of honor." (Quoted in Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly , 23)
Think of it, Churchill had the civility to describe one of the greatest blunders in history as having been made by a man who simply was "contradicted by events." I have always loved and admired Churchill for that kind, considerate, civil, comment. I doubt there is a leader in the world today that "civil."
Hopefully, in the midst of such a lack of civility, we and our families will continue to be polite, courteous, respectful, and treat others with the kindness great men and women have always treated others.