Declining The Invitation

7 Jul

Has anyone mentioned to you lately that we live in a world filled with lots of different opinions about lots of different things?

We do.

Strongly held opinions and beliefs at the extreme ends of the political, religious or cultural scales sometimes go around looking for somebody to disagree with, debate, or destroy. “I’m right, your’re wrong and let’s fight about it!” Now I don’t mind a thoughtful conversation, maybe even a spirited swapping of ideas, but I try hard to avoid the war zones of emotionally charged opinions or assumed facts. Too many bodies left in that field. Too many casualties limping around.

But today I heard a story that offers me a kind response to the next guy who shouts in my face and questions my integrity or good sense. I’ll tell it to you. My friend’s son, a college professor, was speaking at a prominent university on a topic that had the potential to ruffle feathers and churn up emotional juices. The topic had to do with the environment, but it could just as easily have been religion, politics, social values, or anything else that comes under the heading “Hot Button”. At the conclusion of his talk, a man rushed to the front of the room, stood directly in front of the speaker’s stand, and shouted his disdain and complete disagreement. His words were colorful, which means I won’t repeat them here; his arms were waving in the air; his face was getting redder with each breath. So the speaker let him carry on for several minutes and waited patiently until the man’s temperature lowered a few degrees. Then, when the attacker had been silent for several seconds, the speaker calmly said: “You and I disagree. I understand that. And I think you are inviting me to go to war against you. Thank you, but I decline your invitation.” Having said that, the speaker turned and walked away.

Nothing changed because of that encounter. Neither man’s firmly held convictions shifted. Even though the invitation to conflict was delivered, the bait cast, there was no war, no explosions of invectives. It just all ended there. Some people might think the speaker weak or not committed enough in his beliefs or afraid of a good verbal fistfight. I call it civility.

Has anyone mentioned to you lately that we live in a world where civility is in short supply? We do.

Civility. We need more of it.

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