The legacy of civility, beyond our personal hopes for our families and loved ones, is imperative in our own country and the world. We have just in the past month witnessed the tragedy in Tucson, the Jasmine Revolution in my Peace Corps home, Tunisia, and the ongoing struggle for human dignity and opportunity in Egypt.
What can we do about these seismic and historic events? We can strive individually to relate to others, especially those whose opinions and faiths differ from our own, respectfully, compassionately, even lovingly. These qualities underlay civility, but without confronting our personal fears and resentments, civility will slip away as the memory of the events that brought forth the call for civility fade from our fickle attention.
If we do not change our direction,
we are likely to end up where we are headed.
The public goal was expressed by President Obama in his Memorial Speech in Tucson:
[A]t a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds ... [L]et us ... listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together... and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. [Emphasis mine]
[H]ear the right in another's wrong, and the wrong in our right...
Martin Luther King Junior spoke similarly in his Strength to Love speech in 1963:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction ... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Today we experience a lack of civility and its underlying fear and hate all around us, from the Mideast and North Africa to our own country, as well in our own troubled and estranged families, even within ourselves when we fall prey to harshness about our own personal failings.
What is our legacy? What is our obligation to future generations: to do what we can as individuals. We can recognize our own uncivil thoughts, words and actions, understand our own failures of trust and fear of difference so we can replace them with understanding, compassion and love -- the most meaningful gifts we can bequeath to the future.
[C]hildren sing, children dream,
and the tears may fall, but we'll hear them call,
and another song will rise, another song will rise --
Not by might, and not by power,
but by spirit alone -- shall all men live in peace
--Song, Debbie Friedman
Suggestions for Action:
Reflect on the personal fears and resentments you carry that prevent you from relating to yourself, family, friends and the larger community with the civility, respect, compassion and love you intend -- today and as your legacy to the future.
- Write a list of fears and resentments you are aware of, to yourself, family members, friends, and groups in which you count yourself a member.
- Choose three from your list to explore further: write a paragraph about each, focusing on your feelings and the memories of the events that you carry with you about them. Be sure to choose one of your fears or resentments toward yourself.
- Put the writing away for one or two days. When you come back to it, write a paragraph for each imagining that you are safe and secure and are letting go of the fear or resentment. Then imagine that you are face to face with that person and you are speaking words of civility, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, even love to him or her.
- Finally, choose one from the three you've been working on, and write a legacy letter to that person expressing your newfound feeling and understanding of yourself (sharing the life lesson that you learned doing this exploration) and making an amend if that is appropriate. Consider addressing your letter to yourself and unborn generations.
- Your letter need not be sent! That is a choice for another day.
May this be a time of growing civility, compassion and love
... for yourself in this day and for the children of tomorrow,
Rachael Freed has several published works, including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient." She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Inter-generational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families." A Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant.