May First, 2020
Another Voice is back after a post-Easter break for a bit of R&R and taking care of the home front. How our pandemic-shaken world has changed since Easter!
Pandemic history and folklore are something I grew up with. My paternal grandfather, Alonzo William Dick, an authentic hoosier schoolmaster, died in the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919. That pandemic lasted almost 36 months from January 1918 to December 1920. My grandmother, Mary Elen Jarrett, and their five boys survived but Mary Ellen and most of the boys could not attend Alonzo’s funeral because they were bed-ridden and critically ill with the flu. In my childhood I found this a frightening story.
I was very close to my grandmother because she lived about a hundred yards from our home in a small house my dad had built for her. She was often housemother, housekeeper and cook. My mother and father were very active people.
Maryellen was a courageous and strong woman, but what characterized her (and her five sons) the most were the virtues of care, compassion, and civility.
Care, compassion, and civility are what I appreciate so much from my family and helpful friends in these Covid-19 days BUT exactly the very humane virtues I miss in today’s angry demonstrators, and so many religious and political “leaders.” They talk Christ but display none of his spirit.
Civility means much more than politeness, although politeness is indeed an important first step. Civility is about interpersonal respect and seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue. It is about moving beyond preconceptions and listening to the other and encouraging others to do the same.
Civility is hard work because it means staying present to people with whom one can have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. Civility means collaborating for the common good. It is about negotiating interpersonal power in such a way that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s voice is ignored. Civility means that despite different perspectives we still have a shared vision and collaborate to make it a reality.
When civility is replaced by mockery, dishonest accusations, and abusive slogans, people become monsters. History amply demonstrates that monsters create more monsters. History also reminds us that such a scenario never has a happy ending.
The message this week is small. The task awaiting us is enormous. Civility begins with you and me, with family and friends, with neighbors and colleagues, etc. We gradually construct what I like to call coalitions of transformation: communities of faith, hope, and support.
At the end of this week, we can all reflect on the message in Luke 10:25-37: On one occasion an expert in the law, who wanted to justify himself, stood up to test Jesus and so he asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?”
Be healthy and safe!