November 18, 2009

Civility's Unrest

2009 1532 page7 capHREE PUBLIC FIGURES FROM VERY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS AND careers recently let anger and frustration froth out to stunned audiences. On September 9, Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a health-care speech to a joint session of Congress. Days later, tennis player Serena Williams unleashed a torrent of profanity-laden words at a line judge over a questionable call. And less than 24 hours after that, rapper Kanye West interrupted singer Taylor Swift’s music video award acceptance speech, charging that the wrong person had won.
These incidents brought to the fore what seems to be bubbling under the surface (in America, at least)—that good manners, civility, restraint are in decline and being replaced with impulsivity and self-legitimizing rudeness. In an informal society in which many think it therapeutic to express oneself no matter what, that informality can often cross the line into incivility.
The reason for the shift in values is obvious. “More and more people live for themselves,” wrote Kerby Anderson, president of Probe Ministries International, in his 2001 article “Civility.” “And [they] do not feel they are morally accountable to anyone (even God) for their actions or behavior. We are told . . . not to let anyone limit our freedom to be ourselves.” In a somewhat ironic twist, the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 22:39) are neglected as people go for earthly gold and glory.
Christians should take the lead by being the premier examples of civility on the planet. The change must start with the moral, the religious—the ones who best exemplify Christ.
True restitution for a lack of courtesy and consideration starts with apology and reciprocal gracious behavior. As we work to turn the tide of incivility, we can all learn a lesson from entertainer Beyoncé, who gave Swift back her moment in the sun. 
Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.