Virtue is a word I don't hear much anymore. It was a staple in classical Greek and Roman philosophy, which we had to study in the seminary. It was also prominent in our foundations of moral theology courses.
The very word itself, coming from the Latin, implies strength. In this context, strength for living a morally good life.
A number of virtues seem to be in short supply in our contemporary American culture, but I would like to focus on one that I think is in very short supply yet very necessary if we are to have a truly free and democratic society — civility.
In our day it is very easy to find examples of the language of incivility on the radio and the television. How many talk shows seem to find representatives from the two extremes "to debate"? Ye, in reality, it is not a debate at the truth of the issues but more often an opportunity for name-calling and shouting at each other. The winner is perceived to be the one who shouted the loudest not the truth. Truth seems to be what suffers most in the language of incivility.
The language of civility would suggest that each side look for the good (another forgotten concept) in what the other is saying and be respectful of the differences. I wonder what this would do to the ratings of these types of programs.
The virtue of civility implies a respect (maybe another forgotten concept) for the other as being created in the image and likeness of God. If we believe this then we cannot give pejorative labels to people just because they are different in some aspects from us. Most religions of the world contain in one form or another the injunction "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." In the book "The Little Monk" by Madeline Delbrel, a collection of sayings about life, one struck me as I was preparing to write this column: "When certain people question your character, don't respond by doubting theirs."
While standing in line at the supermarket, one can see another example of where the lack of civility has led us. We have gone from "People" to "Us" to "Self." Even just a few years back, who would have thought that "selfie" would become a normal part of our vocabulary?
While in a funeral procession recently, someone coming down an on ramp on Highway 153 tried to cut in between the hearse and my car. Obviously, where they were going was more important than the few minutes it would take to show respect for the deceased person on their way to be buried. This whole "me first, it's all about me" mentality is so contrary to the virtue of civility, and I believe detrimental to our being able to live in a harmonious community.
I hope I have kept a civil tongue in my head while writing this article.
Monsignor Al Humbrecht has served two of the diocese's biggest parishes. He was pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga from 1987 to 1997, and he became the fifth pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in 1997. In 2010, he was named pastor of Holy Spirit in Soddy-Daisy.