In his speech at the memorial service for the victims of last week’s shooting in Tucson Arizona, President Obama took a moment to reflect on the state of the nation. He urged that bickering and the now typical lack of civil discourse in this country should not be allowed to fill the gap behind this terrible event. David Brooks picks up on idea of civility in his column the day after the President’s speech.
Civility, as Brooks defines it, is the process by which “each individual step may be imbalanced, but in succession they make the social organism better.” This system allows our own imperfections and failures to be challenged so they may not degrade the entire society. The idea is fundamental to our political process, but it is reliant on a certain degree of modesty and self restraint, a modesty that Brooks believes is declining rapidly. Our nation was founded on the idea of checks and balances not just of the legislation, but of our people. Even Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market encourages selfishness, but assumes a fundamental value system which will abate gross excesses. Of course these ideals were established at a time when the average person was more in touch with their religious and sinful selves. Today our role models are more apt to flaunt their wealth and talent.
Brooks and President Obama remark that the tragic events of two Saturdays ago have created a lull of humility, but it begs the question: in a world where humility is declining, yet is fundamental to our system, how can modesty be sustained? Perhaps it is a question that we have already begun to answer, but is, with little doubt, one of many our generation will face as we grow.
(Photo by sxc.hu)