Another year has come and gone. Innumerable anniversaries have been observed, and many joyous celebrations have been held. The citizens of our country have lived through another difficult year fraught with the unsureness and frustration of a terrible pandemic. Many of us have fallen horribly sick, and many of us have lost loved ones. Some of us have seen what we believed to be a chaotic demonstration just over a year ago, where others saw an affront and an attack on the very heart of our democratic process.

Things have changed. Indeed, some of these changes have been more irregular, unexpected or less seasonal. These less natural, unexpected changes may have affected us more than we generally realize. With these changes accompanied by historically monumental events, the quality of the dialogues and discussions many of us have engaged in has changed as well.

What has changed within us loomed over millions of Americans at family dinner tables during Christmas or Thanksgiving celebrations. It intrudes on conversations when one receives or even sends a cruel or unkind response to a post or message on the internet, It overrides our sense of restraint when we feel visceral irritation at the sight of certain protests and counterprotests.

This degradation of civility is a result of the nationwide lack of consensus on factual matters. The ability to discuss or agree to disagree becomes impracticable when a baseline level of mutual understanding is unattainable.

The country does not have a national agreement on the nature (or lack thereof) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps it is naïve, but I prayerfully hope that those who hold influence and power – celebrities, career politicians, doctors and any of our favorite news anchors and hosts – want the best for their fans, constituents and followers. Unfortunately, in effect, many of these same individuals of influence, in positions of high regard, have created a culture that rewards inflammatory language.

Likewise, there is not a nationwide, universally held understanding or agreement concerning the nature of what occurred on Jan. 6, 2021. Where some see a disorderly protest at most, others see at least an attack upon our Constitution. Simultaneously, where there will be people who ride alongside us on the bus who believe that those at the Capitol did nothing wrong, there will also be people we see regularly who view the events of that day as irrevocable acts of treason.

This issue cannot solely be the fault of politicians who espouse policies that they believe are appropriate. The issue does not solely lie with the other person who is being yelled at on the other end of the dinner table. The issue that lies at the core of all this vitriol is not the fault of the person holding the sign and yelling or the local theater requesting to see vaccine documentation for the comfort and safety of the other patrons. The core issue of our inability to resolve conflict with grace or civility is an institutionalized environment that enables and rewards attacks upon each other’s legitimacy as a human being of equal worth, instead of encouraging us to question the substance of one another’s beliefs.

If we were simply cohabiting in an ideologically polarized society or a binarily opinionated country, that might be fine. If we were merely living in a society that rewarded inflammatory remarks directed toward another person’s character or circumstances, we could handle that. Unfortunately, we are living in a society that not only is politically divided but also encourages personal attacks.

One cannot change the nature of another’s heart. However, we are fully capable of deciding how we treat them. If we are living in a fluid culture that breeds assaults upon the goodness in each other, then we are all tasked with the responsibility to shift this fluidity in an alternative direction. Which direction do you long for? Which direction will you choose?

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