Pope St. John Paul II was known to speak about advancing the “culture of life” over the “culture of death.” There are many perspectives from which one can view these phrases. The “culture of death” can refer to the acceptance of abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty. Whether you agree or disagree with these practices as political and social issues, I hope most people would concur that it is tragic when death is imposed as the solution to a situation.
Besides physical death, however, there are other ways in which this culture of death is pervasive, namely, through the destruction of people’s dignity. Human trafficking and pornography are just two examples. In both of these cases, human beings are reduced to objects to be used for other people’s pleasure.
A more everyday example is in the increasing divisiveness we are witnessing in families and in the culture at large–the “us vs. them” mentality that has people demonizing and demeaning those who disagree with them, sometimes in very cruel and defamatory ways. People so often fail to truly try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes or to try to understand the other person’s vantage point.
There is a way to disagree with someone, even about contentious topics like the ones mentioned above, without being disrespectful or assuming the worst in the other person. Discussion is important and disagreements are inevitable, especially as some of the issues the culture is facing go to the very heart of even what it is means to be a man or a woman. But it is also crucial to develop prudence, to know the time and the place in which it is best to speak one’s mind. Moreover, it is sometimes better to remember the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” One’s beliefs may very well be closer aligned with truth and virtue than those of the person with whom one is speaking but acting like a sanctimonious know-it-all will never influence anyone positively. No one as an individual person, no matter how correct his beliefs, has a monopoly on goodness. We all sin; we all make mistakes; we all have bad habits, and something we may easily forget, we can all learn from each other.
On the other hand, political correctness and attempting to sugar coat the realities of life are also a discredit to people. Common sense cannot be lost.
If we can speak with humility and love and try to understand the other person then maybe some of this awful divisiveness can be overcome, and a culture of life can begin to be built little by little.
One of the last verses of the Christian Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” states, “O come, O King of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace!” These words, which will always be applicable to the human condition, seemed this year to be even more like a prayer fitting our day and age.
Let us pray and let us work to make 2017 a more peaceful, respectful, loving year, despite our differences.