April 16, 2024

Civility and Mental Health

 “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King

Four recent events remind me of civility and its relationship to our mental health.

  1. A picture of President Barak Obama sent on face book. He’s at his desk in the oval office dressed in Muslim garb with these words “I am not a Muslim.” Was the sender being uncivil, trying for humor or what was the point?
  2. There is the tragedy in Tucson. It is not understandable on so many levels.
  3. The Tucson memorial service where the President spoke.  The invocation, by Carlos Gonzales, was given in the American Indian tradition, rather than the Christian tradition. The invocation included a wider view of spirituality with words that did not exclude anyone. I thought it was beautiful. Listen to the invocation at Freedom’s Lighthouse.
  4.  January 17th, the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King.  It was Dr. King that taught non violence . . .  taught that we can be civil as we stand up in disagreement. Dr. King also made it clear that we should stand up for what we believe is right.

In The Measures of Man, King said “Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good, and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.”

Certainly Dr. King spoke in terms broader than Mental Health. Still the fact remains, hatred and mean spiritedness is unhealthy for both giver and receiver. How can we use this freedom that King speaks of, in a healthy way that respects and benefits all? How can we stop and use our ability to deliberate and choose so that we walk the high road?  How can we understand that being civil to each other is also being civil to ourselves?

At the same time, understand that when we disagree peacefully, respectfully it is in service of both parties’ mental health. In fact, it seems most respectful to speak our opinions, to give others the opportunity to understand those opinions are and to presuppose they are up to the points of view. We expect others to choose the high road but is it not up to each of us individually to start the process, not wait on it?

Take this time to reflect and consider what you stand for and what you want to say. Yet consider also fully understanding other points of view. Can you include the possibility for different points of view, even as you consider yourself right?

We shall overcome some day.”



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