Thought for the week, 10th December; Civility

A piece of research from Harvard Business School recently caught my eye. It concerns the increasing polarisation in society. This is particularly an issue in the USA, where there seems less and less tolerance in political debate as people take extreme positions. I fear that in this country we are not far behind; we seem to be losing the ability to disagree gracefully with others. The research showed that people seem to follow those with more pronounced views on a subject than themselves; they then move their views to coincide with the views of the person they have just read or heard speak. As a consequence, there is a move to the extreme, be it left or right and a loss of toleration of different opinions. Whilst this is particularly apparent with the availability of the internet and social media, the problem is a very old one; the case for “civility” as it has been called, has been made over the centuries. 

Of course, people of faith are as prone to intolerance as anyone, as can be seen in the some countries, where religious leaders are cheerleaders for extreme views. But I would suggest that this comes from a misguided, or perhaps wilful misreading of religious traditions. With Christianity, we are ultimately called to follow the teachings of Jesus, who advocated extreme love, including to those with whom we disagree. The standard is so high that, if we are honest, we will fall short, which also ought to give us some humility. Perhaps if we followed the Good News of the Kingdom of God rather than trends on social media, we might avoid the drift to intolerance and follow instead the path of civility.