I have been reflecting on this passing year in which the nation has endured a very heated political season.
Our leaders, and those hoping to lead, did not bring out the best in themselves or our society. Where has civility gone? Where is basic courtesy, politeness and consideration for others? These appear to be virtues that are slipping away. The stress and anxiety that cascaded over the country has certainly been anything but peaceful and civil.
Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stated, “All of our education and accomplishments in this world will not count for much unless they are accompanied by marks of gentility, of respect for others.” In these tumultuous times, we tend to become angry and unkind toward one another during hardships and disagreements, rather than extending compassion and forgiveness. It appears we are losing the moral compass that points us toward civility.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Longfellow was a man who had every reason to be angry at the world and pity himself. His first wife died shortly after miscarrying during her sixth month of pregnancy. His daughter Frances died when she was 17 months old. His son was injured during the Civil War. His second wife died from injuries she suffered in a fire, and Henry himself was burned as he tried to save her. Henry was left to raise five children. The Civil War still raged — the fighting was fierce and the loss of life unspeakable. In the wake of all his trials, he sat listening to the church bells ringing on Christmas Day.
That morning, he penned these words of his poem, “And in despair I bowed my head: There is no peace on earth, I said, For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
His writing clearly expresses his despair, however, upon hearing the Christmas bells ring stronger through the morning air, he ponders further and concludes his verse with the bells carrying renewed hope across the land.
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men. Till, ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men.”
The holiday season allows us an opportunity to listen to the bells. They remind each of us to reach a little deeper within ourselves and outward toward our fellow man. They encourage us to forgive one another and be forgiven. They plead with us to remember the poor among us, to lift the distressed, to give comfort, hope and help to all who are in trouble and pain. They call for peace and civility, light and joy.
Gordon B. Hinckley stated regarding civility, “It carries with it the essence of courtesy, politeness, and consideration of others…There are thousands out there who nurse wounds and carry scars from the buffetings of life. For this reason, I make a plea that with all of our getting, we will also give to make the world a little better.”
The world needs us to work toward healing the wounds of society and replacing with optimism and faith the pessimism and incivility of our times. There is no need for recrimination or criticism against one another. If we want peace and civility in this world, we must take that step ourselves. As we pray for peace, let our actions be in tune with our prayers. One person can change the world; together miracles can occur.
Bishop David John Cook, Bainbridge Island Ward – Silverdale Washington