As we prepare for the critical November elections, I find myself increasingly frustrated whenever I enter my social networking venues online. A trip to Facebook or Twitter these days often feels like a running of the gauntlet as I dodge nasty comments, unkind graphics, and attack oriented posts on both ends of the political spectrum.
I don’t think I’m alone in my frustration. A recent poll conducted by The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and the Knights of Columbus  found that the majority of survey respondents agree with me on the negative tenor of the discourse:
- 74% think the tone of political campaigns has grown more negative than past election years
- About two-thirds believe the candidates are spending more time attacking one another than addressing the issues
- 56%, believe political campaigns in our country lack civility and respect
I do consider it a tremendous blessing that our social networking venues have given the average citizen a platform to address what matters most in our lives, and to discuss passionately our beliefs with our friends and connections. But I fear many of us have slipped into the trap of following the examples of the candidates themselves, by spending more time in attack mode that in meaningful conversations about the issues at hand.
Why does this matter? Isn’t it our right as Americans to employ our rights to freedom of speech to say what we feel? Yes, certainly. And yet, I’m also cognizant that my presence — and yours — in venues like Facebook and Twitter is a component of the New Evangelization. When my non-Catholic friends (for whom I am perhaps the only Catholic they will ever know) see me launch into a diatribe about Candidate X, they form a perception not only about me and my political beliefs, but about my Church as well. In my passion for my position, I may unwittingly act in a fashion that lacks the charity and diligence to which I am called.
As we lead up to this critical election in November, I am trying to train myself to pray prior to posting. I find myself frequently reading a post or tweet a few times prior to hitting “enter” and asking myself if the comment I am about to make adds anything uplifting and meaningful to the conversation. If my answer is “no”, I must hit “delete” rather than “enter”. This morning, I signed the Civility in America petition , which states:
We, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, respectfully request that candidates, the media and other advocates and commentators involved in the public policy arena employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues, focusing on policies rather than on individual personalities. For our part, we pledge to make these principles our own.
Moving toward the election, I’ll be holding myself to the following standards and preparations:
- Gathering information: Focusing on issues and facts, not attacks, and making an effort to educate my voting-age children on their right and duty to vote
- Forming my conscience in prayer
- Communicating charitably with others about the issues that matter most
- Avoiding personal attacks and those who engage in them
We’re fortunate that there are some terrific online resources to guide us in our preparations to vote. I recommend a visit to the following:
- USCCB’s Faithful Citizenship Resources 
- Your State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops – I found terrific resources on the California Catholic Conference  site to help me prepare not only for our national election, but for local issues as well
- Civility in America 
I’ll leave you with a prayer I’ve been reflecting with for the past few weeks, obtained from the USCCB’s Prayer and Worship Resources :
Lord God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city/state/country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.
We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’d love to hear from our readers on this topic. Do you feel that political vitriol is increasingly present in this election cycle, and if so does it matter? Are you of the opinion that “anything goes” in supporting and advocating for the important issues that matter most? Is there any hope for true “civility” in the political process?