“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”
–Charter for Compassion available at http://charterforcompassion.org/the-charter/#charter-for-compassion .
Open dialogue is essential to a democracy. We value our freedom to speak our minds. However, open dialogue does not negate the requirement to be reasonable, thoughtful, and kind. Our freedom is threaned if we do not exercise compassion in our words and deeds. “The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.” (CCC 1740) If we believe that faith guides policy, then we must accept that threats to freedom will negatively impact our policy, our government, and our way of life.
Every day that we, as citizens of the United States, engage in uncivil discourse we are diminishing our freedom. Do any of us watch what is occurring in the Congress, in the White House, in the media, and through social media and doubt that we are headed down a road that will not end well. We are headed down the road of intolerance that leads to hate.
“Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. …” –(CCC 1731) When we let our public discourse and actions become filled with hostility, a desire to win at all cost, and no focus on how our actions impact individuals then we have jeopardized freedom. The difference between the current citation in the U.S., and so many failed countries, is that in the U.S. the government is made up of the people. We should not be pointing at a few elected officials and saying they are the problem. They are only in their seats and able to maintain their behavior if we support it. They are only able to pass laws that do not respect human dignity if we support it. Therefore, we are the problem.
There are three questions that should be ask before every decision:
- How is human dignity protected?
- How is suffering alleviated?
- Will anyone be made worse off?
Likewise, when we speak publicly, including through social media, we should ask three questions:
- How could what I’m saying be construed to violate human dignity?
- Will my statements cause anyone to suffer?
- Are my words kind, thoughtful, and respectful (not the truth hurts kind or pointing out the error of your ways kind or it is my job to set you straight kind)?
If you can’t respond to these questions in a way that promotes freedom and is compassionate then be silent until you can. Silence can beautiful and enlightening.