“The time is always right to do the right thing. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have observed a few things and maybe needed to include them in The Civil Graces Project. These are basic things, but apparently, they aren’t clear to all by what we continue to see. Like Life’s Little Instruction Book, by H. Jackson Brown Jr., perhaps we need a primer for how to engage with each other in our democracy. How can we approach life in this republic in our modern age in a way that honors the pledge we make with each other and our ancestors to uphold the values of our Constitution? Here a few that hopefully will start a civil discourse on what we can expect and should expect from each other.

One does not have a Constitutional right to use social media. Companies make the rules for their businesses and are very much like stores that have policies of “no shoes, no shirt, no service.” Want to play? Follow the rules. Be courteous and don’t spread rumors or ignite fires by reposting lies. If you’re going to do that, then be willing to engage in the debate without making vitriolic threats to one another. Social media companies also need to be aware of their responsibilities for allowing the spread of false propaganda, as we have learned through multiple election cycles and world events. 

We don’t get to create chaos without repercussions. We have freedom of speech with some exceptions to protect each other…like not yelling ‘fire’ when there isn’t one. We don’t get to impose our will upon each other and ignore the rule of law. For instance, one cannot drive down the opposite side of the road without expecting a crash. We do not exist in a vacuum, but rather are like links that when one breaks, it creates destruction to the whole.

It is not acceptable to scream at people online, in airports, or any place. Do you notice when another screams, we stop listening? So they are wasting their breath. Speak so we can understand what is being said, and even more powerful pause and listen…a great way to learn. Something that is missing so much in our society is curiosity and the willingness to hear other perspectives. Author of See No Stranger, Valarie Kaur, describes it beautifully: 

“There is no such thing as monsters in this world. There are only human beings who are wounded. When we choose to wonder about people we don’t know, when we imagine their lives and listen for their stories, we begin to expand the circle of those we see as part of us.”

The stories we tell have power to affect our thoughts and actions. Pay attention to the stories you tell and test them with Byron Katie’s four liberating questions: 

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Lying and cheating are NEVER okay. Both destroy trust and relationships–so does covering up the truth or telling half-truths. We all have experienced the heartbreak and damage of having someone we love lie to us in small and big ways. It hurts immensely and is so destructive on a personal level as well as a societal level. Repeating false ideas, again and again, does not make them real…ever. We have to have the courage to call upon our leaders and the media to be accountable to the truth. It is time we revisit the Fairness Doctrine so we can begin to rebuild our networks of information based on facts.

When one makes a mess, respect oneself and others to apologize and clean it up/compensate for the loss. When the roll is empty, replace it. Images of Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey cleaning up the Rotunda quietly after the siege gave a powerful sign of love despite the attack. His words came right from the heart: “We [also] need to recognize that how we get through that is by seeing the humanity in each other. There are ways we can have debates and disagreements but not resort to violence.”

Love of country starts with taking care of the people who live there and understanding it’s not all about me/myself/I. Our Constitution begins with “we,” not “me,” and that’s important. “We” doesn’t equate to just a faction or group; it’s ALL of us, so we better learn how to work together. Something I can remember so clearly when my siblings were fighting was my dad’s discipline, “You all need to learn to get along!” Even as much of a challenge as that can be still today, he was right!

It is so helpful if you plan to engage in political discourse to have a basic understanding of history and how our government works. Read as much as you can, and don’t necessarily take everything you hear or read as fact. Part of the power of discourse is we can sort out ideas. Don’t become a parrot for the news you watch or what you read. Explore others’ opinions and consider what the opposition might say so you can seek to understand others’ ideas. Hurting each other is wrong no matter what the context, and in a society like ours, the power comes from sharing ideas, not building walls to shut each other out.  

Winning is not everything. Sometimes there’s something better waiting ahead. Have the grace to move on when a loss happens. I learned that in my own race for Congress. Was it fair? I didn’t think so. Was I upset and felt cheated? For a while, but then I got really tired of telling that same old story and realized I had to face the music and move on so I could do something else. Joseph Campbell’s quote was an inspiration to me: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Moving on was the best thing I ever did, and it freed me from the past I was holding onto and opened my life to possibilities. Stacey Abrams is another excellent example of someone who took her upset and created lasting and more significant change.

Spellcheck and grammar checks are available for free on most online applications. Try to use them and remember, I comes before E except after C. Watch out for their/there/they’re. If you are going to state your ideas, take time to think them through and make sure you are clear and concise. I have to read through what I write multiple times to catch my errors, but I reflect upon what I am presenting in that process. More often than not, I find myself adjusting things, especially when I feel passionate or angry. It is never a good idea to publish anything with anger. Take a walk, take a breath, and collect your thoughts first. Then write. Your opinions matter, but make sure you don’t regret what you say because, like arrows we shoot, words can create damage that never goes away.

Something to consider, politicians use highly emotional issues to get votes…make sure you check on them to see if their actions reflect their words. That includes critical thinking when things don’t add up. Consider the whole picture, especially when there are issues that are meant to divide. Those are their favorites. I saw this upfront when I ran and even in the many years of being in politics working on campaigns. Politicians would say one thing on stage to the people and be quite the opposite behind the scene. Watching someone talk about moral values and then after make suggestive or discriminatory comments doesn’t align. We have to walk our talk and demand the same of those who want to lead. There are important issues before us, but most of them require us to come to the table to get to the heart of the matter, not draw lines in the sand or swords in the air. It requires getting the facts straight, which leads us back to telling the truth.

Radio and television hosts depend on ratings. Some like to make you feel like you are in on a secret, so you will be loyal and come back to hear more. Remember that and challenge what is said on all channels, including chat groups and videos. Just because something has been produced, it doesn’t make it factual. It doesn’t matter who you usually watch or listen to either. Switch the media and listen to multiple perspectives. Engage with each other in dialogue about what someone else might have perceived. Don’t be afraid of having your ideas challenged–that is how new ideas emerge. That is how democracies thrive by the free exchange of ideas that lift people up, not those which seek to divide us.

Follow the money…that is most likely the motivation for many things especially in policy. Also, be wise with where you vote with your dollars and time. Too many are letting their next promotion, reelection, and thirst for power drive their behavior. This is a losing strategy. John F. Kennedy had the best line on this: “Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” Don’t allow your focus to be fogged by delusions of grandeur. Listen for these clues: Are the words of love or fear? Do they seek unity for all or division? Do they put someone down or make fun of someone different? Doing the right thing requires courage and integrity. Be aware of where your elected officials are getting their funding, watch their behavior on the issues, and hold them accountable. We also need to demand campaign finance reform if we want to see things get better. Consumer pressure to hold corporations responsible is already working to change how they invest in our political process. This is a step in the right direction.

Finally, one of the most courageous things a person can do is reflect on their ideas and actions and admit when they were wrong. No one gets it right 100% of the time. We all learn from our mistakes, but learning is the key. We all have areas where we need to do better. Author Edith Wharton once wrote, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Right now, too many are spreading fear and hate, which roots back to the very founding of this nation. It spews racism, xenophobia, sexism, and discrimination of every kind. Any time we treat each other like “the other,” we dehumanize one another and move to a dangerous path of destruction. We have a choice. It is about charting a way forward together and recognizing that our diversity is the very thing that makes our nation strong.

This is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue on steps we can take. On Monday, we celebrate the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He dedicated and sacrificed his life toward non-violent efforts to help bring a more fair and just society. Perhaps it is a good day to reflect upon our own hearts and how we show up in this nation of ours. How can we bring the civil graces alive every day? As the proverb states, “For such a time as this, you were born.” We cannot give up on the possibilities of our democracy, and I hope you will join me in working to discover that more perfect union.  

Photo credit: Vince Moro, taken during my campaign in 2018 as I was meeting someone along the trail.

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