Michael VanHook
Michael VanHook


Something to Ponder


“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest” (Mahatma Gandhi).


“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” (Jesus). 


Invitation to Ponder


What do you think would happen if you threw a big party and invited all your Facebook or social media friends? Would they enjoy each other’s company, or would the event turn into something resembling a cat dropped into a room full of dogs? I’d hope for the former, but I’d fear the latter.


My collection of social media friends is a diverse bunch. They’re scattered across parts of five continents. Several are devoutly religious, while others are ambivalent or antagonistic toward any religion. My friends include right-wingers and left-wingers. Some of their posts would offend others. Some might incite others. Some of them have offended and distressed me. Yet, one way or another, they call me their friend, and I am honored by their acceptance.


Civility in contemporary society is in a state of crisis. Discourse is often reduced to demeaning, demonizing, and dehumanizing levels. Vilifying someone from another point-of-view has become the default button that is pushed to elevate or destroy positions or the person. Pick the labels.


Treating those from different cultural, religious, political, racial, or social positions with courtesy, dignity, and respect has become an abandoned practice.


Recently, I watched a television interview with the leader of a socio-political movement. A documented strategy of this group is their advocacy for acts of violence against its enemies as a means to achieve their ends. Some of their tactics are the destruction of public property, physical attacks upon people, and preventing speakers from opposite points of view from presenting their ideas in public forums. Broadly defined, anyone who held a counter viewpoint or who was remotely related to their enemies—guilt by distant association—was a justified target. Since the leader believed their ultimate objective was morally righteous, they were within their rights to exercise any means necessary to achieve those ends, even violent and nefarious tactics.

To create a more civilized society, I am submitting for your consideration a guiding principle espoused by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s freedom movement. For Gandhi, the means that they used to achieve their ends were all important. He could never use the wrong means to achieve the right end. So important was this principle that he was prepared to halt his movement, even when they were successful if the ends were not as morally equal to their objective. The means never justified the ends.

In our interactions and endeavors, the means we utilize must be consistent with the ends we seek to accomplish. This principle has application in significant and insignificant realms. Violent means cannot be used to obtain nonviolent goals. Falsifying information is not an appropriate means to represent the truth. Demeaning another human being is not consistent with elevating noble human values. 


Living this lifestyle is difficult. When someone demeans, demonizes, and dehumanizes us, those we love, or a position we hold, retaliation with equal force is a natural reflex. But it is not a moral or civil reflex.


In my personal life, I am committing to these ideals. I will:

  1. Affirm the worth and dignity of every person.
  2. Open my mind and heart to learn from every person. Every one can be my teacher.
  3. Create space for others to be heard, even when I disagree with their point of view.
  4. Reject all forms of demeaning another person for the sake of winning an argument or reinforcing my position; implement and embrace means to accomplish ends with the same degree of integrity as the end itself.
  5. Adopt the role of a servant that seeks to elevate others to their highest human potential.
  6. Distinguish the appropriate times to speak out or remain silent, believing that wisdom lies in knowing when to raise one’s voice, sound the alarm, take a stand and when to leave something alone, or allow the silence to speak.
  • How do you practice civility in your own life?
  • What are some examples that you have observed where the means contradict the ends that they seek to promote?
  • Can you think of any instances where the methods employed are justified in being inconsistent with the ultimate value?
  • What suggestions do you have to create a more civil society


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