Spirituality and Ethics
Virtue Ethics - Civility

By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.

Since the November election in the U.S., I have been doing some reflecting on the virtue of civility. My interest in this virtue has been spurred on also by the lack of civility among some politicians on both the state and the national levels. Author Teresa Jordan in her insightful book, “The Year of Living Virtuously,” points to the ideal way for politicians to act in her chapter on governance:

“Surely, one of the duties of office is to respond to the needs of the nation by entering into open-minded debate in good faith.”

That is to have the nation’s issues at heart and not simply one’s own personal agenda. Such a perspective avoids being locked into immutable positions or setting out rigid ultimatums.

Civility is summed up quite well by author, Jacob Needleman: “If I have the right to speak, I have the duty to let you speak. This means that I have an obligation inwardly…to work at listening to you. I don’t have to agree with you but I have to let your thought into my mind in order to have a real democratic exchange between us.”

Yale Professor Stephen Carter, goes further by proposing what he calls, “Integral Politics “ (or a politics of integrity). Such a theory promotes the avoidance of:

  • Close mindedness
  • Mean spiritedness
  • Demonizing one’s opponent

and promotes instead:

  • Respect for others, especially those you disagree with
  • The art of negotiation
  • Persuasion and compromise over provocation and alienation
  • And truly open and thoughtful dialogue.

I would add – staying more on the issue you are discussing with another than on your feelings about the other person. This lesson came to me the hard way. When I was in high school my father and I would have occasional differences of opinion on a subject. If he sensed he was losing the argument he would completely change ‘direction’ and go after me personally. This confused the heck out of me until I realized what he was doing; once that happened, and I grew in self-confidence, I could ‘pull’ him back to the issue and not get side-tracked.

One of the best ways to keep our discussions civil, is to have a sense of humor. Humor helps to burst the ‘balloon’ of ego and self-righteousness like nothing else!

Readers’ Comments nn Compassion

“Thank you for this treatment of compassion. It is an important message. As the philosopher Alain De Botton has pointed out – in the past we viewed those who need our compassion as ‘unfortunates,’ now we tend to see them as ‘losers.’ Your article gets us back on track….I would add another category to the “Nationally” section of what we can do: make sure that every adult has the opportunity to obtain an education, one that leads to stable and meaningful employment, and especially for those who are homeless or who have criminal records.” – Ed, educator of at-risk adults

“As I reflect on the virtue of compassion, I wonder how anyone can be cold and insensitive to others. Then I answer the question myself: ‘not everyone understands compassion; otherwise we wouldn’t be so quick to judge others. Compassion is a character trait, therefore our character comes alive when we are compassionate.” - Ulina, businesswoman

“Compassion not only motivates us to share in the suffering of another (others), it motivates us to DO SOMETHING to relieve the suffering.” – Scott, accountant

“I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads: Compassion is the radicalism of our time. It is a quotation from the Dalai Lama. When we read that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion,’ we understand that the root meaning of the word means ‘from the womb,’ in other words from a very deep place inside. When we treat others with compassion, they become a subject, not an object.” – Rosemary, retired non-profit executive

The late spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, often wrote about compassion. In his book, “Out of Solitude,” he penned these words: “When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness – that is the friend who cares.”

Announcement:

"THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR EVERYDAY LIFE," by Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.

This book is a sequel to "Beatitudes for the Workplace" (2009). In this new book, I explore how the commandments touch our lives today. Instead of restricting our behavior, the commandments help to set us free from whatever enslaves us. There are plenty of inspiring personal stories in the new book. Publisher: Novalis (Toronto), available in the U.S. from 23rd Publications (1-800-321-0411), on Kindle, Kobo, and iTunes. Retails at $12.95

(February 2015)


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Virtue Ethics The Real Las Vegas I Love My Country Integrity and Courage Post-Election Reflection Joy and Hope A New Year Reflection Living a Virtuous Life: More Readers Response Living a Virtuous Life: Readers Respond Living a Virtuous Life Joy Civility Compassion Love
The Spirituality of St. Ignatius Ten Ethical Lessons The Our Father The Beatitudes The Ten Commandments Other Topics About Fr. Max Oliva, SJ


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Loyola Institute for Spirituality (LIS), founded in 1997, is located in Orange, CA. LIS provides many programs and services for individuals, parishes, and dioceses throughout Southern California and beyond.