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Thoughts on civility

John Kenney
John Kenney

In my litigation law life, I found, to my great comfort, that most of the lawyers, business people, witnesses and others involved were good and honest persons. Many were “on the other side” yet they earned and deserved my respect. Some of my good friends today are those I opposed in hard-fought, high stakes cases and very difficult situations.

But, then, to my great discomfort, there are the others. Those that seem to have little or no concern for honesty and good faith. Name calling, verbal abuse, intimidation and maybe worse are a way of life for them.

I have concluded, after many years in the “school of hard knocks,” the best thing I can do is try to avoid being caught up in a “fighting fire with fire” response. And then, avoid later seeking revenge, which only starts the cycle over again. Being unwilling to get caught in that trap can be astonishingly disarming to those verbal abusers. A seemed disadvantage becomes an advantage.

How does one gain that advantage? There are at least four basic principles to consider:

1. Yelling does not help. It is seldom called for and successful even less. In fact, I usually consider one who is yelling to have lost control and is likely to say most anything. Or, the yelling is planned and deviously designed to have an effect of intimidation or to cause me to lose control. I never trust a “yeller.”

2. Honesty includes calmly expressing the truth as one knows it. And, importantly, clearly identifying a personal belief or opinion. Good faith is trying to do what is right, and most of us know what that is. Unyielding honesty and good faith are disarming to wrongdoers and nearly always prevail in the end.

3. Be willing to truly discuss ideas and most of all, listen. Listening, I have observed, can be the magic that tempers otherwise unyielding thoughts and can merge ideas of others into a solution to many things.

4. Retribution and revenge never seem to solve anything, long term. For me, the formula is simple. I try to leave these things to my God. Only God knows the full story.

Honesty, good faith and neighborly love of our fellow humans, if made a way of life, will rub off on those we meet. And, after a time the world will be a better place. Is this too idealistic? I do not think so. Not if the synergies created by more and more people's actions take hold first on my "street," then in my “block,” my "town" and on and on.

John Kenney is a lawyer in Oklahoma City and has a Certificate in Ministry from the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.