10/22/2012 02:38 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

Civility: A Legacy of Peace

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 two years witnessed violent tragedies in our own country, the Jasmine Revolution in my Peace Corps home, Tunisia, and the ongoing struggle for human dignity and opportunity around the world, especially in the Middle East: Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

What can we do about these seismic and historic events? We can strive individually to relate to others -- especially those whose opinions, faiths and politics differ from our own -- with respect, compassion, understanding, even love. These qualities underlay civility. If we don't confront 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."
-- Chinese Proverb

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "Strength to Love" speech in 1963, said:

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.

"Hear the right in another's wrong,
and the wrong in our right..."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr

It was expressed again in 2011 by President Obama in his memorial speech in Tucson:

At 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 ... Let 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 ... The forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

Their historical words are even more significant as we approach the 2012 elections, while sound bytes, ads, and viral hate accost our eyes and ears instantaneously all day every day.

Today we experience a lack of civility and its underlying fear and hate all around us, from the Middle East to our own country, as well in our own often troubled families, even within ourselves as we harshly criticize our own personal failings.

What is our legacy? What is our obligation in this season of forgiveness to return to civility on every level of our lives? What is our responsibility to future generations?

To do what we can as individuals. Only we can recognize our own uncivil thoughts, words, and actions, understand our own failures of trust and fear of difference. Only we can replace them with understanding, compassion, and love. This may be the most meaningful gift we can bequeath to the future.

"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, for your vote on Nov. 6, 2012, and for your legacy to the future.

1. Write a list of fears and resentments you are aware of at yourself, friends, family members, and groups in which you count yourself a member.

2. 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.

3. Put the writing away for one or two days. When you return 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.

4. 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!

5. Your letter need not be sent. That is a choice for another day.

"May this be a time to grow civility, compassion and love
... for yourself today, for November 6, 2012,
and for the children of tomorrow"
-- Rachael Freed

NEW 2012 editions now available of Rachael Freed's Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman [also available as pdf downloads at] and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. She is currently working on Your Legacy Matters: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide, to be published early 2013. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and Follow her on Twitter:

For more by Rachael Freed, click here.

For more on the spirit, click here.