By Wilson McCoy III
What do politicians, athletes, and rappers have in common? They are all guilty of P.D.A.: Public Displays of Aggression. However, their eruptions should not be isolated from larger American public life represented by recent town hall meetings where rage was rampant. These celebrities have received numerous indictments recently, yet they are only microcosms of their context.
Some blame a generational shift in American values from the humility of a post World War II era to new narcissistic trends. Some claim the “coarsening” in discourse is symptomatic of deeper issues of incivility. Others argue that “authenticity” has become justification for whatever a person deems “being real.” No one knows exactly why outrageous self-expression is now normative in public domains, but the consensus is America’s landscape has changed.
My faith causes me to wrestle with a Christian response. Yelling with disregard for others reflects a lonely public hungry to be heard. Name-calling reveals increasing unwillingness to see our neighbor’s humanity. Acts of self-aggrandizement reveal a people with a poor notion of what power is and is not. The sense of entitlement displayed points to a relinquishment of any authority but one’s own self. This coarsening of dialogue in our world reflects a coarsening of the human heart.
The heart surgery Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount is a needed voice in this conversation. Jesus’ followers should reflect on how they are and are not participating in public forums and how they might give counter witness to their faith. Screaming, “Fool!” (Or “Socialist!” Or “Nazi!”) only perpetuates dehumanization and misses Jesus’ call for neighbor love. Maybe James was onto something when he called followers to slow their speech and anger and quicken their listening. The world desperately needs fewer people yelling for the last, loudest word and more bringing out their neighbor’s humanity through the radical act of listening.