Increased Civility in Our Conversations

RayBloggernacle, Charity, christ, christianity, cross, diversity, Happiness, Jesus, LDS, love, meekness, Mormon, Peace, Sermon on the Mount 27 Comments

On this Good Friday, I want to make a request based on a wonderful post I read over at By Common Consent by one of my favorite writers, Russell Arben Fox.  It is entitled “Friday Reflections on Mormonism and the Cross” – and it can be read in its entirety at the following link:

I am going to include my own thoughts on that post – then take this post in a very different direction.

When I talk about the Atonement, I also reference the Sermon on the Mount – and I emphasize the command to be perfect. The wording in verse 48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect.” In the overall context of Chapter 5, I agree that this conclusion means that we become “perfect” by becoming the type of “blessed” person described in the previous verses. Finally, our footnotes for verse 48 define being perfect as being “complete, whole, fully developed” – and I re-word that as “finished”.

It only was at the end of his time on the cross that Jesus declared, “It is finished” – just before he “gave up the ghost”. Iow, it only was after the cross that the Atonement was complete – that Jesus fulfilled his own command to “be ye therefore perfect.”

I honor Gethsemane, but when we ignore Golgotha we worship an incomplete, paritally developed, imperfect Savior and Redeemer.

However, how does this apply to my own life – and, more specifically, my participation in a forum like Mormon Matters? 

I was blessed to be raised with a mother who never once raised her voice to anyone – not in anger and not in any other way. I can say honestly that I have never heard her condemn anyone. When we did something we shouldn’t have done, she would automatically tear up because of what she feared our actions, if continued, would do to us. Those tears were worse BY FAR than anything my dad did to punish us, but it was not transmitted through a sense of guilt. It came across obviously and strongly as a deep and abiding love for us and concern for who we would become.

I have a deep and abiding desire for respectful conversation and mutual understanding explicitly because of what I saw my mother live. She was loved, truly and deeply, by everyone who met her, and I wish I was like that more fully.

Elder Wirthlin’s words about accepting all within the orchestra (not just the piccolos) resonated with me largely because of my upbringing, but my experience since beginning to blog also made his words ring clearly to me. I have seen so much contention and bickering and vitriol, even here at Mormon Matters, and it pains my soul – especially when I know what it does to people.

I don’t ask for compassion in commentary simply because of what it does to a conversation; I ask for it also because of what it can do within those who comment. 

I ask for an increase in civility in our conversations today as a token of our worship, respect, admiration, reverence and/or acknowledgment of He who “finished” his work without revililng those who were the instruments of that end. 

My question for everyone is simple:

How can we recognize the part we play in incivility – and how can we create a healthy, diverse, open, civility here that will be special and meaningful for ALL who participate – even those with whom we disagree strongly?

Comments 27

  1. Ray-
    Thanks for a great post and great reminder, as always. I love your ideas on atonement, and with you desire compassion, love, and civility in our dialog.

    It is indeed a tall order. Look at our surroundings! We currently are facing the most vitriolic political climate we have faced in a century, with no signs of relief. Furthermore, we are constantly barraged by people who insist that their way is the one and only true way (whatever it is). The very notion itself becomes divisive when parroted to those with whom we disagree.

    In the face of this, I see a few things that we each can do:
    1. not be that way ourselves. Show love, compassion, and think hard before writing. Try to imagine how our own words will be taken.
    2. respectfully call out, using reason, tact, and love, those who spew their disrespectful diatribe. I think most people are reasonable and few intentionally wish to offend. With that assumption it becomes easier to talk to people.
    3. think of the person on the other end (readers, other writers) as real people with feelings (not just a username and an opinion).

    I do hope we can have civil discourse. It will not happen all the time, of course, but I do think each of us can make a difference. Thanks for the role you play in this Ray!

  2. Ray, thank you for these thoughts. I feel that I understand a bit more where you are coming from with this added information on your family background. My family was quite different: whenever there was an issue involving any one of us, the whole family got involved. We had a rollicking good time, often shouting our opinions in very loud voices. All were allowed and valued, though at times shot down scornfully and gleefully! I can see that our different family backgrounds probably make us react differently to dissent here on the blog. I feel like I am comfortable with much more strongly worded differences of opinion here than you are. I enjoy hearing and engaging with many voices, even when to you they seem strident, angry, or unlikely to move the conversation along to a place of resolution.

    I don’t enjoy the profane, but neither do I think we have to be “reverent” here. I would appreciate civility, but I truly understand when anger and frustration is being expressed, that often there just is no other place to go with it. I hope this post will not have the effect of squashing conversation or making any viewpoints feel unwelcome.

  3. I am not sure if I have ever been a good example of the type of discourse that Ray is calling for. Yet, I feel confident that it is necessary. I think that if we are to critique we should focus upon the position or argument rather trying to make witty or sarcastic critiques. The distance built into the blog format makes it increasingly easy for us to forget JMB’s point 3.

  4. One of the reasons I remain active here is that I love reading and thinking of and discussing so many different perspectives. There is SO much potential for thoughtful discussion and growth and insight in a forum like this where exposure to new perspectives is appreciated and encouraged.

    One of the reasons I go less active here occasionally is that the differing opinions so often turn into bickering arguments and, as Ulysses said in another recent thread, people shout past each other without any real understanding or enlightenment occuring.

    My time is precious. Every minute I spend here is a minute I lose from something else – like right now, as my two youngest daughters call for me to go walking with them. I don’t want to limit or stifle discussion in any way; I want to broaden real discussion. I also want this forum to be a place that brings us closer to the ideal for which we strive – however we express that ideal and however different our individual ideals might be.

    That is the central message of this post – that we can disagree without being disagreeable, even though that is not an easy thing to accomplish – that we can be more Christ-like in our inter-relationships with real people, even though it will require conscious effort for all of us (and more effort from BiV). 🙂

  5. …how can we create a healthy, diverse, open, civility here that will be special and meaningful for ALL who participate – even those with whom we disagree strongly?

    We might start by trying to recognize the diversity of the beliefs of the people who participate here. For example, not everyone here worships, respects, admires, reveres, and/or acknowledges your god. Calling for civility in the name of your god excludes those people.

  6. *repenting in sackcloth and ashes*

    Part of the problem, I think, is structural. That is, it is the nature of some religious or political ideologies, that disagreement with a particular point of view is not just mistaken, but evidence of wickedness. How does someone who, in good faith, subscribes to one (or more!) of these ideologies, satisfy his competing duty of civility?

  7. “Calling for civility in the name of your god excludes those people.”

    Kuri – this is “Mormon Matters”. I phrased my statements for the focus of this forum. I have NO problem expanding it to include anyone in any religion – and atheists and agnostics – but this is Good Friday, so it’s about being Christ-like.

    Seriously, if it helps you, subsitute anything/anyone else – but the post will remain focused on “my god”.

  8. “was that supposed to be witty repartee?”

    No, BiV, it wasn’t.

    In all seriousness, it was meant as a smiling little barb at someone I admire and respect greatly – based totally on what she herself had said in her own comment.

    I apologize if it seemed to violate the spirit of my own post. It wasn’t meant to do so.

  9. “how can we create a healthy, diverse, open, civility here that will be special and meaningful for ALL who participate – even those with whom we disagree strongly?”

    Change the topic from religion to something else.

  10. Ray,

    I have never once and never will complain about religious-themed posts on Mormon Matters. That would be silly. But if you’re going to talk about improving the blog for “ALL who participate here,” perhaps it would be helpful to express yourself in a way that doesn’t immediately exclude some who participate here.

  11. Post

    Serious question, kuri, asked in an attempt to understand:

    Are you opposed to posts that speak of being Christ-like and ask that we strive to be more Christ-like, since some who read and comment here are not Christian?

  12. Are you opposed to posts that speak of being Christ-like and ask that we strive to be more Christ-like, since some who read and comment here are not Christian?

    Not at all. What I’m trying to get at is that there’s nothing wrong with posts that exclude some people in the Mormon Matters “community” from the post, but I think there is something wrong with posts that exclude some people from the community itself.

    Some posts here are implicitly or explicitly directed towards specific segments of the Mormon Matters community, e.g., Mormons or Christians or believers. That’s fine. But some posts — especially those on “meta” topics that address the nature of the blog itself — are implicitly or explicitly directed towards everyone who participates here. Posts like that use words like “we,” “us,” “our,” and “all.” And if someone writes a post that purports to address the entire community, that speaks of “we,” “our,” and “all” but really means “we believing Mormons,” “our religion,” and “all us believers,” then that post is excluding everyone else from the community. That post is saying to everyone else, “You don’t belong here.” That post is implicitly defining the community as “believing Mormons only.”

    For all I know, that may be what this community really is: a place for believing Mormons only. I don’t think it is though. I think Mormon Matters is actually a place that strives to some degree for a “healthy, diverse, open civility” that welcomes Mormon and non-Mormon, believer and unbeliever. But maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to know if I am.

  13. I think you’re right on the money Kuri. That is what we strive for. Though obviously our discussions are focused on Mormonism particularly, I know that I try to be welcoming to everyone – and I think others do as well.

    I actually think you have brought up a good point – one that I had not thought of before. I appreciate you pointing it out as I will now try to be more aware of when my language is exclusionary.

  14. kuri, you are right on target with your idea of what this community it meant to be – but I don’t understand how my post and/or its wording is inappropriate for this forum.

    If you’re not saying that, I apologize for not getting what you meant in the context of my post. If you are sayign that, I would like some more explanation about why you feel that way – since I tried hard to make sure the main point of my post (increased civility) was addressed to everyone who comments here. I meant “those with whom we disagree strongly” to apply to “ALL who participate here” – meaning that each and every one of us be respectful to each and every one of us, no matter our beliefs or perspectives. I’m struggling with how that plea directed to “ALL” is exclusionary, especially since I intentionally tried to make it totally inclusive.

    I really do want to understand. I am not trying to be argumentative in any way. I really do want to understand.

  15. I have to say that I agree with BIV, in that I enjoy a spirited conversation. That being said, a few years ago I made my way around the Mormon blog world trying to find a “home” if you will. The strictly “anti-mormon” zones were far from engaging or enlightening, but the other more faithful based spheres were where I experienced the most unwelcoming interaction. I have enjoyed Mormon Matters largely because of the general respect and tolerance, inspite of the vast diversity of opinion. I would again agree with BIV that I would hate for the attitude here to become one of reverence, because to me that comes across as a call to be agreeable without disagreement. But, having had many a coversation with Ray, I recognize that that is not what he is calling for. Rather, as we engage our conversation we all best served by rational and well thought out arguments devoid of ad hominem, directed either at commenters here – or those things some hold sacred. We are also best served if we avoid occasion to take offense (I have been guilty of this), but pursue an experience understanding. Good post and insight Ray.

  16. JMB,



    One last try, and then I guess I’ll have to give up as unable to make myself clear. I believe that your post was sincerely meant to address everyone here, but how can it be addressing everyone when it includes an appeal to a god in which some of us don’t believe? You said, “I ask for an increase in civility in our conversations today as a token of our worship, respect, admiration, reverence and/or acknowledgment of He who ‘finished’ his work without revililng those who were the instruments of that end.” You say “our,” but I don’t worship Jesus; I don’t believe in the Easter story. So your appeal is to “all,” but you implicitly define “all” as “we who believe the Easter story.” That’s not me. That’s not some other people here either. Are we not part of this community?

    If I were to call for greater civility from all of us in the name of, say, our patriotic duty as Americans, could I realistically claim to be addressing everyone here? No, because most but not all of us are Americans. Some of us have no duty as Americans. That’s not to say that there would be anything wrong with addressing only Americans here; nor is there anything wrong with addressing only Mormons. But if we want a community that includes non-Americans, there would be something wrong with claiming to address everyone here yet really addressing only Americans. And if we want a community that includes non-Mormons, there is something wrong with claiming to address everyone here yet really addressing only Mormons.

  17. Kuri,

    I guess I don’t really understand your disconnect. As Ray explained this is MORMON MATTERS and so topics are drawn from that perspective. From that perspective, a diversity of opinion, belief, practice, etc comes from that. While it seems appropriate to me that topics center around Mormonism, you feel apart of this community because you are interested in that. Terms like we, us, all, etc are just modifiers of the topic being discussed. If it is one think I have learned from Mormon Matters is there is no absolute we, us, all, etc. in Mormonism. I think folks who participate have felt very comfortable saying, “that’s not me.”

  18. Jeff,

    Thanks for responding, but I don’t have any more to say about this. I’ve done my best to make my point, but if people don’t get it or they disagree, c’est la vie.

  19. Kuri:

    I think I get it, I just don’t agree that out of an appeal to deity Ray’s comments were exclusive. He was reflecting on his belief’s which inspired him to call for an increase in civility for all. He was not requesting a call for civility for only those who believe in some aspect of the easter story. You shouldn’t feel excluded, particularly as Jeff has noted, in a religiously based blog – especially not one as diverse and welcoming as Mormon Matters.

  20. P.S.

    I would just add that even if you can make a hyper-technical argument out Ray’s comments, we should also consider his intent. I am highly doubtful that he intended the exclusivity you are drawing from his language and perspective. Perhaps your arguments exploit an imperfection in either his employment of words or understtanding (then again, perhaps not), but even if so, you should see in his comments a willingness to embrace social harmony even if he hasn’t personally achieved that yet. So in conclusion, I agree with Ray – Let’s all try a little better to understand one another in the spirit of civility.

  21. I’m kinda new to the blogging scene to know the limits, perhaps it is people like me due to inexperience that cross the line with civility and need to be reminded…(thanks Ray). I have seen the value of good moderators to keep the board from becoming tedious, while not squelching healthy and passionate discussions.

    I come to these boards to hear dissenting views, so I can consider them, and think about things differently, and learn.

    But I have my opinions, and like to have them challenged so I can think through them. Spirited and challenging discussions are helpful. Being bold can be exhilarating.

    I think it matter of self-respect and dignity to maintain civility, even if being bold. Those that can’t, in my opinion, show their weakness by handling opposing views with more emotion and less thought, which begins to diminish the edification of the discussion, IMO.

  22. I understand, kuri.

    Thank you for trying so hard to be as clear as possible. I just can’t eliminate my belief that we should attempt to be “Christ-like” or “godly” in my posts here – and, since I am more than willing to have anyone who reads my posts substitute “Allah”, “O-shaka-sama”, “The Great Spirit”, “the universe”, “love”, etc. for “Godly” or “Christ-like”, I simply will end our conversation with that statement.

    If anyone feels excluded by my post, please insert whatever “becoming” motivation fits your own worship or individual striving best in the place of “Christ-like”. My message still is the same, regardless of the religious wording used (or with a lack of religious wording) – but the message, for me, includes an appeal to religious wording in a Good Friday post (and probably any other day, frankly, when I write here). 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *