High River United Church of High River, Alberta


Our Children's Future: Civil Discourse

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What will my children’s future be like?  It is a question that we all ponder as parents, sometimes with hope, sometimes with fear.  Yet, I believe that we have much more to do with shaping that future than we might sometimes feel we have.  This week, I want to talk about Civil Discourse….. how we speak and discuss with each other.  And I want to start with this story:


I was walking my oldest into school (many years ago now – but not that long). My youngest was with me – a 4 year old and a 6 year old.  We were just about to enter the school when the little boy, about 5 years old, ahead of us stopped and addressed his mother, “You f…….ng, s…o…b.  J…C.. I hate you!”  My sons and I stood there stunned at what we had just heard come out of that child’s mouth.  The mother, unfortunately, went into a submissive, “I’m so sorry” kind of stance.  I gathered my boys and walked on, as they said to me, “Mommy, did you hear what that boy said?”


The words coming out of that child’s mouth were clearly not appropriate and sounded absolutely horrible.  If the child’s language has not cleaned up over the dozen years since,  I doubt that he is  finding it easy to have significant relationships or lasting employment.  It was so sad!


That kind of language sounds no better coming out of an adult mouth.  Yet, we are hearing vicious, attack language more and more, from our political leaders and via social media.  Today’s example: the premier is a "vicious, poisonous, toxic cocktail of mediocrity and incompetence who requires an extreme amount of adult supervision."   But then there is “deplorables,” “scuzzball,” “goons,” and “gangsters.”  All said by government officials.  And it comes from every side.


The kind of comments that people feel free to make via social media: facebook, twitter, e-mails, etc. goes even further, with physical and sexual violence threatened, even death threats.  What could one person possibly say that should unleash comments such as “You should have been aborted,” or “I’m going to rape you and kill you.”   That, obviously, is not civil discourse, nor is it free speech.


How have we got to the point where some feel it is their right to say whatever happens to come out of their mouths, no matter how hateful, racist, sexist or violent it is?  It seeks to demean, to belittle and to terrify.  But to what end?  It does not further the discussion on any issue or solve any problem that we face as a society.  This lack of control over what comes out of the mouths of people only fuels anger, hatred and violent acts.  It shuts down creative and purposeful discussion.  The letter from James in the New Testament sure got it right in chapter 3:


            How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is             placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the             cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of                       reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no             one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord                 and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the                   same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.


Indeed, James, this ought not to be so.  Nothing is added by the kind of vicious language we are hearing & reading all too often today.  However, I disagree with James.  I think that the tongue can be tamed, and that we can choose to use it to bless rather than curse, to contribute rather than attack.  With maturity, comes the ability to choose carefully what we say, and to think about what the effect will be on others.  Unfortunately, there are some who are intentionally choosing to use their words to curse others, to demean and to belittle.  But it adds nothing to our society.


What I want for my children and my children’s children is a society where civil discourse is reclaimed.  We can have different ideas without attacking each other.  We can represent diverse points of view and experiences without demeaning each other.  Civil discourse is about discussing ideas, with everyone contributing and every one’s view point valued, even if it is not agreed with.


Civil discourse starts with conversations around the dinner table.  Talk about events at school and happenings in the community.  What are the children’s opinions about these? The family dinner table is a great place to learn to listen to diverse points of view and to respect them.  It is a great place to learn to express one’s own point of view and experience without having to belittle others to do so and without being belittled by others for one’s opinion.  It is a great place to learn that we don’t laugh at another person’s idea, even if it seems far-fetched, because in the idea there can be a gem of wisdom and creativity.  


Our children learn civil discourse by listening to the adults in their lives.  (We may not want them listening to some of the political leaders these days!)  Do we speak respectfully of those whose ideas are different than ours? Do we seek out discussions with people who have different view points so that we can listen and learn? Do we choose our language thoughtfully and carefully?  Do we say things like, “I disagree with you but thank you for giving me something to think about. Every idea is valuable”? Do we demonstrate the tempering of our emotions in order to show care toward other people?  And do we apologize when we, human beings that we are, mess up?  This is what mature human beings do, and we all have the potential for such maturity.


I long for the day when all viewpoints can contribute to a solution rather than people feeling the need to stake out their territory (or political party) and never cross to the other side.  While I have my political leanings, I really believe that the best answer is somewhere in the middle of all the sides taken.  I am so tired of each party having to defend their party line, and only their party line, always criticizing the other parties.  Just once I’d love to hear, “While we don’t agree with everything in today’s budget, we really like this particular investment of money, and we’re wondering if the government might also…….” 


How about that for civil discourse rather than declarations that someone is “a vicious, poisonous, toxic cocktail of mediocrity and incompetence!”  I know which one I think would get us further as a society.  I’m hoping that my children and your children can lead society back to civil discourse, because the discourse happening these days is much less than civil and much less than helpful, from my viewpoint.  It is time to say, “NO!” to language that is less than civil, for children’s sakes, for our world’s sake.

March 23, 2017                                    ©Susan Lukey 2017

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