Calling out problems on a cultural level is easy. There’s lots of room to extend your arm and point your finger. Turning that finger around and pointing it at yourself is awkward and uncomfortable.
So for a long time, I pointed at others, calling out their lack of civility. It was usually in general terms. “Our society needs to be more civil.” “People should try listening to each other instead of bashing each other.” “Christians should be more loving toward each other when they disagree.”
I even wrote some articles about it. Last year I wrote about Foster Friess’s Return to Civility initiative. I wrote about a former neo-Nazi who covered his racist tattoos after his black parole officer showed him kindness. I wrote about Black Lives Matter protesters sharing a moment of civil dialogue with Trump supporters in Washington, D.C. I wrote about being civil in our online interactions, and endeavored to exemplify such civility in my own social media posts.
Advocating Civility vs. Living It
Since I was pounding the civility beat in my writing, surely I was exemplifying it in my personal life, right? I did love talking about the issue with friends and colleagues — in an abstract, theoretical, “if only” sort of way.
But what happened when I packed up my work bag, shut down my computer and hopped in the car to head home? There was anger, uncharitable comments and perhaps a few obscene gesticulations. Well, that’s just traffic, right? You’re anonymous when you’re behind the wheel. No big deal.
But what about when I stopped at the grocery store or a drive through, and the service was extra slow? The order messed up? The cashier annoying? There was chilliness, impatience, maybe a passive aggressive complaint. Okay, now we’re getting a little less anonymous. But still, it’s not like they knew me — or what I’d written.
What about when I talked to loved ones and they did something to make me mad — even something as simple as advocate a position I disagreed with? There was snarkiness, frustration, and in the worst cases, insults, thinly veiled and not veiled at all. There’s no anonymity at that point. My behavior was not only hypocritical, but boldly so.
Fruit, Not a Fluke
Thankfully the Lord began convicting me about this. You can’t decide you’re going to advocate civility in your writing, and then conduct yourself like an angry maniac on the highway. It’s insincere to show civility to people online if you’re going to glare at the grocery store cashier.
So why do we do that? Why did I do that? The Bible has some things to say about it.
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of an abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
“So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:17-18
My bursts of road rage or disagreeableness toward those I loved were not flukes. They were fruit. They were the evidence of what kind of treasure was in my heart. And it wasn’t pretty. My heart was diseased, and any public advocating I did for healthy things like civility was just a show.
Through this lesson I realized that the best way to address a cultural problem is to start by pointing our fingers at ourselves. We can advocate for good values all day long — civility, churchgoing, pro-life activism, etc. — but it’s just a show if our own lives aren’t producing the same fruit we try to sell.
God, may we honor you in our actions, no matter how anonymous they may seem. Please search and renew my heart so that it produces fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.