Civil Language Projectmiscellanea

Amplify What Goes Unseen

Have you ever noticed what goes unseen? Tristan Harris’s Hyjack #1 explains why we, in our technologically mediated times, miss so much. There’s only so many options on a menu. Only so many headlines fit in the headlines. Podcasts are unary and linear narratives. Picture-in-Picture allows for about five (very distracted) views.

There are more life options than make it into a website’s main navigation. The headlines are an infinitesimally small sampling of headline-worthy news. When we listen to a podcast, we are not listening to millions of other voices. And for the love our brains, let’s just get rid of television altogether, mostly.

The point is that so much more happens than what is brought to our attention by those who choose the menus. When our options make us anxious and nervous and mad, there are thousands of anecdotes for our concerns just waiting to be noticed. So the next time we feel stuck with the options we have available to us, let’s do this. Let’s find a good thing that has not made the menu and then amplify it.


Life Is Now

Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now.

Richard Adams, Watership Down

Army Surplus Sales Near Church
Civil Language Project

Confession Instead of Accusation

Despite the news, despite the insensitivity on social media feeds, despite the awkwardly racist conversations at gatherings – despite all of that, I am going to remain hopeful that the tone of our civil language can improve. We can speak more hospitably about others. We can speak more graciously when in the company of others. We can shift the way we talk from divisiveness to unity. How?

As humbly as I can, please allow me to suggest one way we all can shift the tone of our language so that it encourages unity. Believe me, I am preaching to myself. I need this admonition as much as any person reading it.

Confession instead of accusation. When an opportunity arises to accuse someone else of a wrong, seize the opportunity by making a personal confession.

Instead of saying, “The media are biased,” confess, “I play favorites.” Instead of saying, “That guy in the comments section is a jerk,” confess, “I treated that stranger disrespectfully.” Instead of saying, “Those people are doing it to themselves and are getting what they deserve,” confess, “I acted selfishly and got away with it.”

No ifs, ands or buts about it. Do not confess, “I know I have my favorites, but the media are too biased and it drives me nuts.” Just say in your heart or to a trustworthy friend, “I need to get this off of my chest. I show favoritism. I am sorry. I want to change and treat everyone with dignity.”

Why do this? Because, when we focus our intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy on accusation, we almost never improve ourselves or our communities or our world. Yet, when we are brave enough to voice a personal confession, we always improve ourselves. By extension, we make our communities and our world a little better.

Confession is so much harder than accusation. Yet there is hope. Billions of people the world over have said sorry. Whole communities have said sorry. Entire nations have said sorry. And get this, not once in all of history has a confession been made when there wasn’t also an opportunity to accuse. We are empathetic creatures. Imagine a history in which everyone who made a personal confession instead accused another person of wrong. How awful that would be! And yet, some days on social media and in conversations it does not seem like we need to imagine such a history. It can feel like we are living it. There is hope, though. Others have shown us the way. We can, too. So…

I need to get this off of my chest. I prioritize my personal comfort over relationships. I am sorry. I want to change and make my privilege subservient to the messiness of flourishing community.