Chaplain's Corner + Defusing Incivility

by Fr. George Morelli

In the 8th Century B.C., King Solomon, the author of the book of Proverbs, wrote: "A mild answer breaketh wrath: but a harsh word stirreth up fury. The tongue of the wise adorneth knowledge: but the mouth of fools bubbleth out folly." (Proverbs 15:1-2). Since first penned, this wisdom has been confirmed by thousands of years of human experience. This is no truer than in today's world in which we encounter a proliferation of crudeness, harshness, rudeness, lack of respect of the person and attempts to control others. The use of four letter and scatological words in dealing with others is found everywhere. No segment of the media is exempt. The explosive worldwide multiplication of social media use has made such discordant behavior almost unavoidable.

It is important to realize that a crude, rude and harshly toned reactive response by us often creates a pattern of escalation of incivility between all involved. We may not be able to change the uncivil behavior of others, but we can change our response to such rudeness when it is directed to us. This was recognized by Confucius in 4th Century B.C. China who wrote: "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps."i In the Jewish Talmud we read: ""The highest form of wisdom is kindness."ii After being confronted by unseemly words and actions it might be a stretch for some to respond with kindness, but a good first step would be to act in wisdom according to the advice of Molière (1622-1673 A.D.): "A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behavior is patience and moderation."iii

One way of responding in wisdom is to employ the disarming technique. (Morelli, 2010)iv. This is done by making "a neutral statement about the other individual's response." One does not have to agree, one has to deflect. For example, an empathic response may be made. That is to say, simple acknowledgment of the strong emotion the other is feeling, such as "I see you're upset." Other disarming responses are: "Hum! That's an idea;" "That is one way of looking at it;" "That's a possibility;" "That's a point to consider;" "Well, we may have different ways of looking at things."v

Let us be wise in responding to the crudity of others.. As our Eastern Christian Church Father St. John of Gaza (1990) tells us: "If silence is more necessary even during conversation about good matters, how much more so in matters that are indifferent?"vi







iv Morelli, G. 2010, April 09). The Disarming Technique.

v There are appropriate times (e.g. When being bullied. c.f. Morelli, G. (2011c, October 03). Smart Parenting XXIII. Coping with Bullying. to apply assertiveness, but that can be done with civility and charity, c.f. Morelli, G. (2006c, July 02). Assertiveness and Christian Charity.

vi Saints Barsanuphius & John (1990). Guidance Toward Spiritual Life. Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood