Civility matters

One of the best articles I’ve read which relates to the recent shooting in America is “I am Adam Lanza’ mother.”

It’s a very personal and thoughtful call for better mental health care for children — especially boys — who are afflicted with violent tempers and psychotic episodes.

Like any article, it contains claims which others can dispute, and conclusions which require scrutiny and debate. And like any article online, it has attracted ferocious attack from trolls who show astounding insensitivity and hatefulness.

In contrast to this, three of my favourite bloggers have reviewed their online tone in light of the tragedy in Connecticut.

Max Lindeman:

The great mass of my Facebook cronies and I managed to do something that just a little earlier would have seemed almost as miraculous. For a few hours, we canned our opinions, clamped off our snark glands, and went out of our way to be gentle to one another.

Kat Fernandez:

In a more recent example of times when I should have been the better person and just left well enough alone, I called an atheist blogger hateful for exploiting the Sandy Hook tragedy to advanced his agenda against Christians. He used one tweet, out of the hundreds of thousands in support of the victims and their families, to paint all Christians as vengeful religious fundies . . .

. . The incident forced me to recall all the times I’ve done the exact same thing. When a Christian church is burned to the ground by Muslim hands I am quick to post something nasty about the “religion of peace”. Hi, pot. You’re black. Love, the kettle. I do this because I need to have a reason to validate my hatred. It makes it easier to continue to hate and not to not feel bad for doing so. Again, pray for me. Please.

Elizabeth Scalia:

Now that the first fog of everything-the-press-got-wrong is lifting, and people are asking“why” I wonder about the time and the place, and if bullying from a decade ago, or longer, played into the creation of the evil and misery unleashed upon so many innocents, yesterday.

Everything matters. Everything ripples through time and our lives, like a pebble tossed to a pond, we cannot know what gets touched upon which shore . . .

. . Every day it becomes clearer to me that we must each BE the change we wish to see in the world — fix ourselves and be gentle with others. It’s a waste of time to try to compel others to be what we think they should be.

Trolling and nasty, personal argumentation are very human. Put it down to concupiscence. But it’s also very human — very humane — to declare a cease fire at times of moral crisis, like the September 11 attack, and the Newtown shooting.

The bloggers I quoted were able to do that because they still observe civility. Trolls don’t do that. A million bloggers I haven’t quoted don’t do that.

Civility matters. But civility is dying. Which is why I still defend Cardinal Dolan’s prophetic gesture earlier this year.

2 Comments

  1. MuMu
    Dec 19, 2012

    Fr John, do you not think Cdl Dolan might have changed the course of the election if he had politel refused to invite Obama to the Al Smith dinner?

    Cdl Dolan could easily have sent off a civil letter to Obama:

    Dear President,
    In a spirit of great civility and prayers for your immortal soul, I am unable to invite you to the Al Smith Dinner this year. While you and I understand the nuances of political diplomacy, I fear the vast majority of Catholics do not. They would interpret my invitation to you as an approval of your policies. They could interpret it as an endorsement to vote for you. I cannot risk this.
    The moment you renounce your policy of supporting the killing of children in the womb I will be most happy and delighted to invite you to dinner …. and I’ll offer you one of my best cigars… I will even give you a bearhug for all the world to see.
    Until then, regretfully, no Al Smith dinner.
    Yours civilly, etc…

    • Fr John
      Dec 20, 2012

      Indeed MuMu. An American priest has seriously put to me that the image of Cardinal Dolan and President Obama guffawing together at the Al Smith love-in may have swung the Catholic vote in Obama’s favour. I find that claim utterly preposterous. Any Catholic who is so disengaged that they don’t know about the Administration’s assault on the freedom of conscience of Catholic health care providers would most certainly be equally ignorant of the Al Smith dinner. Besides which, what voter in their right mind would cast their vote according to a perceived endorsement of that candidate by a Catholic cardinal? It doesn’t make sense.

      I take your other point though. Denying Obama an invitation to the dinner is certainly not uncivil.