Last Thursday morning at Ridgefield’s Connecticut’s clergy association (where I served my Green Egg Bake and Apple Cake) we talked about how to foster civility. It struck me that this is certainly a topic that bears some consideration in a blog post. While impossible to cover the whole of this issue, here is in essence what I think about it and what I said during that meeting.
To me, civility starts with our common ground as all children of one Creator, not in learning to bridge our differences. In my work, I listen to lots of people of every stripe and type. No one likes to be stereotyped, and indeed no one fits into a stereotype. Stereotypes are intended to be generalizations, but they egregiously miss their mark more often than they approximate anyone closely. We cannot assume stereotypes are valid, especially since we never feel like they apply to us, so we must stop assuming they apply to others.
People are often very insecure. That is usually accompanied by anxiety, mixed with frustrated hope that they’ll be validated and accepted. That insecurity plays out in defensiveness, criticism of others, and the camouflaging of their true self, leaving them to masquerade behind protective barriers. It results in detachment, hostility– feeling misunderstood and isolated. More importantly, it leaves them in an identity crisis. This crisis of identity is a common theme that I discern behind so many issues. It is not surprise we don’t understand others, when we understand our own selves so little.
As I regularly encourage my clients, authenticity is the answer to all of this. Whenever you vulnerably step out in your authenticity, by that same degree you free other people to do the same. Yes, we need to be more loving and accepting of people with differing lifestyles, beliefs, politics, and opinions than ourselves, but first we need to love ourselves, and embrace our own true authenticity. Without understanding and honoring ourselves, we can’t do it for anyone else.
So how do you begin to embrace your own authenticity? The way I explain it in my work is that we are all made up of Godlike qualities and attributes. As you start to identify yourself with the way God created you– as very good– you become less insecure, for you realize you don’t have to be the Source of any good, only the outcome or reflection.
So I encourage clients to list Godlike qualities and exemplify them in their lives. My list of God-like qualities and attributes includes about 1200, but I’ve been collecting them for a while. Doing so helps give us a bigger, clearer sense of both God and ourselves. Just for starters, consider expressing universal qualities like mercy, kindness, generosity, delight, creativity, intelligence, caring, conscientiousness, consideration, alertness, assurance, prudence, peace, radiance, virtue, justice, magnanimity, honesty, graciousness, wisdom, diversity, and joyfulness.
Your life becomes better by identifying this way, but the uncanny thing is that it frees everyone else too. What automatically happens is bigger than just civility. As we image forth these things in our own life, genuine appreciation and recognition of those same attributes are discoverable everywhere, exhibited by others. In the spirit of Namaste, the wisdom in me sees the wisdom in you, the joy in me responds to the joy in you.
So when we treat people as Republican, or Democrat, as Gay, or Transgender, or as a Jew, or an Evangelical, a Christian Scientist, or a Muslim, we limit them into a lie. For one clear example, what people assume about me as a Christian Scientist is hardly ever correct. We need to get to know each other as the sum of our mutual Godlike qualities. We tell stories to ourselves about each other that are simply not true; let’s actually get to know each other instead.
Civility seems daunting when you start with your differences. But when you start with the God-given qualities and attributes we all share, the path forward becomes radiantly clear, and is lit with love.
As a person not afraid to be deeply authentic, it is easy for me to find common ground with anyone. We may not agree with everyone’s perspective, but we can respect their integrity as a child of God, and hold each dear one in a space where they can shine. Isn’t that what we all desire? Isn’t that what we all deserve?
So to foster civility, I would simplify it down to being unabashedly authentic yourself in the highest sense, and to amplify every good around you and within you. That can ripple outward and catch on, spreading even more easily than hostility and anxiety, because people crave it. It feels great, and it sustains itself because it is based on the truth of our most primal purpose and connection– the way God made us to be.
I realize this sounds idealistic, but we need ideals to strive for that include a practical step by step path to further individual and collective progress. I know this method has worked in my own life, and what is proved in part is true for the whole. Please join me today by embracing and manifesting all the good God made you to be, and look for that in everyone around you as well. The result will go way beyond civility.