Civility in America: How can we get it back?

| August 2, 2012 | 0 Comments

A recent poll by the Knights of Columbus and Marist College Institute for Public Opinion on civility in public discourse confirms what many of us have observed: the tone of political conversations today is laden with too much negativity and disrespect.

Two-thirds of those surveyed last month said candidates spend more time attacking their opponents than addressing issues. Nearly 80 percent are frustrated by the conduct of political campaigns. Some two-thirds feel the negativity of campaigns causes a great deal or significant amount of harm to the political process.

With three months to go until Election Day, we should take the poll results to heart and hold candidates accountable for what they say — and particularly what they say about others — in their speeches and campaign ads.

Policing ourselves

But we, as Catholics, also need to hold ourselves accountable for how we conduct ourselves — in conversations with others, on our Facebook pages, in letters to the editor — when we talk about the candidates and issues at stake this coming Nov. 6. The foundation of Catholic social teaching rests on respect for human life and the dignity inherent in every person as a child of God. When we speak untruths, attack persons instead of focusing on issues, and fail to treat those with whom we disagree with courtesy and Christian charity, we demean their dignity and ours in the process.

One of the results of the lack of civility is that fewer people are willing to engage in the marketplace of ideas for fear of being shouted down. But there are simply too many important issues at stake this election season: the definition of marriage, threats to religious liberty, poverty and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

As a church, we know what it’s like to be the focus of mean and untruthful attacks regarding several of these issues. We need to do our part to cultivate civility while ensuring that voters are properly informed when they go to the polls.

One positive step

The Knights are taking a step in that direction by encouraging people to sign an online petition and to support the effort by “liking” it on Facebook.

It’s one small initiative that by itself might not change much. But the Knights should be applauded for the effort to highlight this persistent problem in the public arena.

If the rest of us Catholics — who make up roughly a quarter of the U.S. population — would take their idea to heart, we might finally begin to change the attack-ad culture that plagues our public life.

Category: Editorials