Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Got Civility?

On this MLK weekend, I dream for more civility

The recent shootings in Tucson, AZ a week ago resulting in the deaths of 6 victims and injuries to 14 more including Representative Gabrielle Gifford (D) has resulted in an intense national discourse during about the vitriol in political debate. Many have called for more civility. Others have adamantly stated that since we have no understanding of the motives of the murderer we shouldn't blame the tone of political debate as having anything to do with this heinous crime. Who knows why this individual decided to try and assassinate this particular congresswoman and then turned his semi-automatic weapon upon the gathered crowd? Was he responding to political vitriol? Was he experiencing a severe psychotic disorder with command hallucinations to kill? Was he just trying to get attention and become somebody famous like so many others who have tried to assassinate political figures and celebrities in the past? Regardless of his motivations doesn't it just make good sense that we should work hard, very hard, to be more civil to one another even when we disagree about politics and other matters?

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One would think that after thousands of years living in social clans, humans would have developed excellent strategies to get along with each other. In fact, we have! The religious, psychological, and philosophical communities and traditions offer much wisdom on this issue. Too bad we tend to ignore it.


For example, in my book, Do the Right Thing: Living Ethically in an Unethical World [http://www.newharbinger.com/bookstore/productdetails.cfm?PC=287], I review these approaches and distill them to 5 easy to remember words for living: Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Competence, and Concern (RRICC). Easier said than done for sure.


It is terribly disheartening in my view that people with different points of view on politics (and other topics as well such as religion) can't find a reasonable way to discuss their views without name calling, screaming, and demonizing those who hold different points of view. Curiously, sometimes those who claim to be the most moral or religious scream the very loudest.


If we are going to do the right thing in our communities regarding getting along together we really do need to work hard (very, very, very hard) to be civil, respectful, polite, and attentive to the views and feelings of others. In the RRICC model mentioned above, we really need to be respectful and have concerns for others. We shouldn't need a national tragedy to remind ourselves that civility should be expected in public and private discourse. In fact, perhaps incivility just shouldn't be tolerated.


Perhaps reminding ourselves of the importance of treating others with respect, kindness, and civility might be at least something positive that could emerge from this terrible event.


There is great wisdom in the Golden Rule (i.e., treat others as you wish to be treated) which is supported and articulated in all of the religious traditions and in moral philosophy as well. It we treat others as we wish to be treated we would not only be civil to each other but we would likely be loving and kind as well. Maybe this could be one thing that the various political parties and others could agree on to make a better world for us all. Would it be wonderful if Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party, Coffee Party, FOX news, MSNBC, and everyone else and in between signed a civility oath?

What do you think? Am I dreaming?

On this MLK weekend, this is my dream. 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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