I am a regular writer for the Forum on Faith column in Connecticut. Here is my article today in three Connecticut newspapers. You can read it online here, here, or here, or read the content without the distracting ads below:
To Foster Civility Focus on the Qualities We Share
How can we foster civility?
To me, civility starts with our common ground as all children of one Creator, not in learning to bridge our differences. In my work as a Christian Science Practitioner, 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.
I find 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.
This insecurity results in detachment and 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 a surprise that we don’t understand others, when we understand our own selves so very little.
As I regularly encourage my clients, authenticity is the answer to all of this. Whenever you vulnerably step out in your enlightened 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. The Bible holds the answer when it asserts in Genesis 1 that we are all “made in the image and likeness of God” and as a result, each one of us is “very good.”
As you start to identify yourself with the way God created you, you’ll become less insecure, for you’ll realize you don’t have to be the Source of any good, only the outcome or reflection.
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 lives, genuine appreciation and recognition of those same attributes are discoverable everywhere, exhibited by others.
So when we treat people as Republican, or Democrat, as Gay, or Transgender, or as a Jew, or an Evangelical, as 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. I may not agree with everyone’s perspective, but I 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, honor others’ highest authenticity as well, and to amplify every good around you and within you.
I believe 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.
by Polly Castor, a Christian Science Practitioner, and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield, Connecticut. She can be reached at PollyCastor@gmail.com.