Civility Revisited

We have to be able to revisit and revise our beliefs as we move through this world, or else we’d get stuck. Something may seem right at 25 or wise at 35 or important at 45 – but may later appear to be a folly of youth! A year ago, as I worked on a project of writing about each of the 30 variations that make up Bach’s Goldberg Variations, I chose to attach the idea of “civility” to one particularly genteel movement.  The music is utterly pleasant and without drama, and that apparently fit my definition of civility at the time.

Yet, I chose a photo to accompany that posting which I had taken in Cape Town several years earlier – a photo of a photo, actually, that showed Archbishop Desmond Tutu standing in front of a photo of Nelson Mandela. I knew even then, I guess, that civility could not be equated with politeness, and certainly not with meekness. Nor can our polite selves serve as a veneer over our inactions or subtle cruelties. With unfailing civility Tutu and Mandela stood up to injustice, but their actions were not meek. Not by a long shot.

It was a Washington Post column several weeks ago, ‘Civility’ vs ‘hysteria’ that woke me up to the fact that injustice is uncivil, and reminded me that confronting wrong requires civil disobedience. Civility is sometimes loud, and sometimes listening. Sometimes tenacious and other times forgiving. It pays attention to those who are hurt as much as it attempts to understand those that do the hurting. It’s so much more than Bach’s sweet 18th Goldberg variation implies. Civility, I’ve learned, requires something more nuanced – and though Bach’s music has plenty of places to look, perhaps I’ll go to Beehoven this time. Not thought of as a model of civility in either his personal or musical style, this elegy was written for someone he undoubtedly loved from afar for many years. Complicated feelings expressed in a civil package of string quartet and chorus:

 

Peace,
Sonya

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.

What is True?

If you saw this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, perhaps like me you were struck by the quote on the first page:

IT IS CONFRONTING THE TRUTH THAT LEADS TO LIBERATION FROM OUR PAST

Printed in capital letters as it was, it came across not like the screaming of an all-caps email or text, but rather as something solidly incontrovertible. Representative John Lewis’s words, said in connection to the Smithsonian’s soon-to-open museum of African-American history and culture, are worthy of engraving in stone.

Does it seem that people are sometimes afraid of the truth though? I don’t mean the superficial truths about someone’s appearance or revelations that are somewhat embarrassing, but those deeper truths that involve the rights and wrongs of justice.  Moral truths that affect people lives in important ways.  The kinds of truth, in other words, that force us to face our fears and require us to change.

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” said one wise philosopher, Albus Dumbledore, to a young Harry Potter.  Is it the terrible part of truth that we fear?  The uncomfortable parts that keep us from maintaining a moral certainty of correctness? Of our superiority?  The stuff we try to sweep under the rug, sometimes with great (if temporary) success?

What better time is there than the height of a presidential election season to meditate on the word “truth”? Especially this election, with its accusations of secretiveness, outright lies, and manipulations of truth (a.k.a. polling!).  Am I right in my sense that the concept of truth is taking more of a beating than usual this time around?  That factual truths can be so easily proven in this day and age makes me wonder if we’re de-sensitized to lying.  Everyone lies after all.  But what about those things which can’t be verified with a quick Google search?

The etymology of the word “true” is telling.  Coming from a Middle English word for tree, trewe, from Old English trēowe, and Old High German triuwi, meaning faithful, it is also a word that is probably related to Sanskrit’s dāruṇa (hard) and dāru (wood).  Rootedness then is something that trees and beliefs have in common.

Before we name as true some of those deeply held beliefs which are firmly rooted in us, do remember that at one time people knew that the world was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that left-handed people were evil, that women are the property of men, that people of African descent are inferior.  These weren’t (and aren’t) casually held opinions.  These things were simply true. Holding too firmly to something that proves to be untrue sounds like a recipe for ridicule and disappointment.

If a truth has deep roots then maybe it can withstand the hollow lies people cling to.  What are some of the truths that we might allow to become deeply rooted in us? Truths that won’t open us to ridicule and disappointment.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu may have come closest to naming some basic truths in one of his oft-quoted sermons, and I can’t help but believe that the world would be a better place if we allowed these to take root in us:

Good is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

Worthy of engraving on our hearts. And if I may,  I’d like to add one more…truth is stronger than deception.

Peace,
Sonya

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Where I’ll be:

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical. http://www.chevychasepc.org

September 27 – organist and choir director for a service celebrating the institution of The Rev. Matthew Hanisian as Rector of St. Martin’s-in-the Field Episcopal Church, Severna Park, MD. 7:00 p.m.

October 5 – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 6:00 p.m., I will be playing on a program with Furia Flamenco and Guillermo Christie.

Also in October, I will be playing for the High Holy Days (a first for me) for the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.