“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
I have a stack of seven books I keep on the corner of my desk at home so that they will be close at hand. The stack of seven changes from time to time, but are the seven books I refer to most for encouragement, inspiration or reference. One book that is a constant in the stack is the Bible. Another one that has been in the stack for some time and that I have found myself reading chapters of more frequently, is a small book titled Choosing Civility by Pier Massimo Forni. Before his death in 2018, Dr. Forni had for many years been a professor of Italian literature and civility at Johns Hopkins University.
Civility is typically defined as courtesy and politeness in our behavior and speech. In Choosing Civility, Dr. Forni said civility is a form of awareness. He wrote, “Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving restraint, respect, and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness.”
When I was in high school (this would have been the ‘70s), a required social studies class during senior year was called Simple Civility. I remember the intent of the class was to prepare us for our next season of life, whether that be going to college or starting a full-time job. The class focused on teaching us things like decency, fairness, tolerance, respect and integrity; all things that would be considered basics of simple civility.
Something else that points to civility and grounds us in our faith are the vows of our baptism. The vows of our baptism carry us through life. With so much conflict, division, polarization and violence happening in life, our baptism vows are a powerful reminder of the call upon our lives as Christian people of faith. The first vow of baptism asks, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” And the second vow follows by asking, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
Wickedness, evil and sin come in many different forms and are lived out in words and actions. Will we renounce wickedness, evil and sin when we see it lived out around us and at times even within ourselves? And, will we accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist and overcome evil, injustice and oppression with good?
I believe we can recapture civility when we treat one another with respect and dignity simply because we are all made in God’s image and by our baptism are beloved and cherished children of God.