‘Respect and civility’
The words “respect” and “civility” are often used on Facebook posts, usually without much definition. So, what do they mean in common usage? Bypassing elaborate philosophical definitions, here are the two dictionary definitions:
- Respect = a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements. Esteem and regard are synonyms.
- 2. Civility = formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
A common saying helps us move along. It goes, “Respect must be earned.” There is an element of respect via position, as with respect to the president, a general, a judge and so on, simply by knowing the position requires great abilities to achieve. One can have little real respect for a person in such a position yet defer to them because of the position they hold or the hold the position gives them, while appearing to have “deep admiration” for them.
Civility is straightforward, and it has reference to behavior and speech. Speech is a behavior, and another old truism is that words have power, a power that can hurt others; disgrace them, bully them, misinform them, lie to them, be hypocritical, create chaos and divide them. In a great America, these things are an unwelcome use of words, especially when they lead to negative actions, like terrorist attacks on our nation’s Capitol.
There is a third word that involves action with respect and civility: Trust. Going back to the dictionary:
Trust = firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. Synonyms include confidence, belief and faith. An important example of the power of trust is that relations must be built on trust. When people use words that create disgrace, bullying, misinformation, lies, hypocrisy, chaos, division and even violence, they are not trustworthy.
President Joseph Biden used the word “unity” eight times in his recent inaugural speech. Unity, to me, means a oneness, a common belief, a common goal, almost a civil religion, but not without civil dissent and, thus, the need for trustworthy negotiations. Unity is a very worthy goal. But when one side promotes terrorism, threatens murder, breaks promises, lies, alienates partners around the world, puts more faith in foreign dictators than in that of our own intelligence services, openly brags about these and other actions, I do not believe in seeking unity with them.
Trump may no longer be president, but the cult of Trumpism is still strong, and Trump’s minions still (look around) follow him blindly. They have created a zero-sum game; win or lose, no compromise. How do you compromise democracy itself? Would it go something like if you stop gerrymandering, we’ll stop fighting your voter suppression? Which is democracy? Which is not?
Before unity there must be accountability. When those holding a person or group accountable are enablers and complicit with the person or group being judged, there is little chance of any vote for accountability, witness the current actions of the Trump minions in Congress and so much more.
So let me be clear: I do not want unity with seditionists, traitors, liars, terrorists, conspiracy theorists, fascism lover or their ilk. I want to bury them, not by violence of word or action, but in trustworthy civility and in democracy. But I keep in mind the words of Winston Churchill early in World War II, “No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it… There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness.”
Churchill was talking of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Our enemy is creeping fascism, marked by incivility and violence and its accompanying destruction of democracy.
Editor’s note: Jim Coufal of Cazenovia is a part-time philosopher and full-time observer of global trends. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.