At the recent semi-annual meeting of the United States bishops in Baltimore, I raised an issue to some of my brother bishops in private conversation which I would like to share with you: civil discourse. Cardinal Donald Wuerl has written on the subject with great wisdom. He in turn reminded me that both in Boston and here in Rockville Centre, I have tried to do the same.
May I suggest that this Advent season is a particularly appropriate time for all of us to give new thought and reflection, aided by prayer, on the importance of our own speech, our own ways of talking, our own tendencies to use language that is argumentative, polarizing and demeaning of others.
Strident shouting, which has become a staple in the social media, especially among bloggers and tweeters, does not serve us well. Listening in order to understand, thinking before reacting, using a tone that is calm and respectful of others and maintaining a level of dialogue that reinforces what we hold in common without erasing real differences would go a long way toward a more civil society and a more healthy human environment.
Civil discourse is the hallmark of a good society that has confidence in its fundamental goodness and seeks to extend that into our day to day relationships at home, in the workplace, in our parishes and communities. Thanks to my father, I have never been one to indulge in off color language. Once, as a teenager, I used a four-letter word in his presence. He said to me “educated people who respect others need not use that kind of language because you ought to have a sufficient vocabulary to express what you mean without vulgarity.” He was right then. He is right today.
What are the advantages of civil discourse? There are many and I want to return to this in the near future. Sufficient to say now that the common good is served well when all of us communicate with a sense of civility that moderates our language and influences our way of interacting.
The common good is a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching. It expresses the truth that we are called to live with one another in a society where mutual respect and a common desire to build up community call us all to recognize the values that makes us members of communities that adhere to truth, the good and the beauty of the life we share — whether through education, faith, or culture based on mutual respect — and a desire for the good that guarantees all we hold dear. I invite you to think about these things during Advent and, even more, pray that as communities of faith and as citizens of our nation we make the changes in our own discourse, our own conduct, that will restore civility and mutual “considerateness” for us all.