The Importance of Civility
This past week I attended the lecture titled, “Prophecy, Civility, and Truth: A Reflection on the Upcoming Election,” given by Dr. Cathleen Kaveny. Dr. Kaveny is a professor of both law and theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and is the author of several books. The lecture given by Dr. Kaveny was very interesting, but was not what I expected. While I went into the lecture expecting to hear about specific issues and analyses of the candidates and their views from Dr. Kaveny’s perspective, I came out of the lecture not with more knowledge about the election itself, but with a greater appreciation for a principle we so often overlook, not only in politics, but even in every day interactions with each other. While Dr. Kaveny disclosed information about her involvement in the political scene and even her TV appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, her purpose for giving the lecture was not to reveal her views or debate questions of morality or equality in regard to political issues. Given her involvement and strong affiliation with the Catholic Church, Dr. Kaveny did reference certain issues, such as abortion and contraception, which the church currently struggles with—however she did not delve in to either her personal stance or the arguments about these issues. Dr. Kaveny instead focused on what she believes is the most important thing both Christians, and people of all backgrounds are capable of—acting with civility. She calls all people to “bring back dignity between parties,” asserting that the political playing field is presently much too aggressive and insensitive. Dr. Kaveny’s main point, tying together the three ideas presented in the lecture’s title, was that no matter what “truth” it is that we believe in, our ideas and beliefs must be prophesied and presented with nothing less than a strong manner of civility. Dr. Kaveny’s call to civility included consideration of the importance of the “framing of a message,” and “putting into practice the golden rule.” Something I found most interesting was Dr. Kaveny’s use of the Christian theory of Just War in regard to the concept of “verbal warfare,” saying that the same principles of the Just War theory should apply when one engages in a “verbal war” of sorts so that a certain level of civility may always be maintained between arguers. I believe this lecture relates to both the readings from this week, and the Jesuit education ideals. Dr. Kaveny urges all people to be advocates for justice, via a strong commitment to prophesying truth with civility, something very closely related to the Jesuit commitment to justice and care of the whole person.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Birthmark, Aylmer moves to convince his wife Georgiana to allow him to attempt to remedy the birthmark on her face. While at first extremely hesitant about the idea, and also very comfortable with the birthmark, Georgiana eventually asks her husband to perform a procedure on the birthmark. However, Georgiana asks her husband to remove the birthmark not because she does not like it, but because she feels increasingly inferior each time she catches her husband staring disapprovingly at the mark on her face. Georgiana eventually dies due to the removal procedure, imposing the story’s theme that we should become, or in this case choose to remain, comfortable with certain imperfections, so as not to harm ourselves physically, or mentally, in trying to please other people. I think that this relates to the lecture I attended in that Aylmer failed to realize the implication his obsession with the birthmark had on his wife, just as those involved in politics are often so consumed with their own opinions that they fail to act with civility and realize the effects their words and actions can have on people of opposite views.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator and her husband have a very disconnected relationship. The narrator suffers from crippling depression and is offered help only from her husband John who is a physician. John believes he knows what is best for his wife, but in reality only belittles her condition, trying to convince her that she simply has “temporary nervous depression.” During their stay at a summer home, the narrator develops a certain infatuation with the ugly yellow wallpaper in her room, though she initially finds it repulsive. When she begins to tear down the wallpaper to free the woman she sees in it, she herself finally feels free from her husband and the room he has insisted she stay in for three long weeks. The relationship I find between this story and the lecture I heard from Dr. Kaveny is in the way Dr. Kaveny suggests we are called to treat each other, versus the way John treats his wife and her condition. John spends most of his time caring for other patients, and assumes his wife’s condition to be unserious, thus not paying it much attention. This attitude contradicts Dr, Kaveny’s insistence that people attempt to see each other’s point of view, and whether agreeing with it or not, in the least, must act with civility, treating it with the respect and seriousness it deserves.
William Wordsworth’s, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, describes the speaker’s happiness when he is among nature. The speaker describes the daffodils and stars as possessing human-like qualities in which they dance and flutter. The poem establishes a definite unity between the speaker and nature. The only relationship I find between this poem and the lecture I saw is the connection between the unity the speaker of the poem has with nature and the potential for unity Americans have should we all assume a great mutual resect and civility for each other.