President Obama’s State of the Union address was different this time. Senators and representatives crossed the aisle, put aside their partisan differences and sat together.

This was in response to the shooting that occurred earlier this month in Arizona. It was a way to show respect and unity at a time our nation needs healing.

Civility is an important and almost forgotten element of contemporary politics and life. Being civil is an act of courtesy, respect and politeness. These qualities have been missing in recent years – especially in the political arena.

It is easy to point accusing fingers and blame the media or a particular party or movement, but in reality the fault lies in all of us. A society becomes what it allows. We have become so passionate about policies and procedures that we’ve forgotten to be civil.

You can detect this lack of civility by the inability to have discourse about the ideas and issues that matter. This reluctance is seen in every aspect of our culture, churches and classrooms – people afraid to voice their opinion because there is a general lack of consideration and respect.

This lack of civility is detected best in our rhetoric. The ways words are used to divide and accuse have become a daily habit. We have become accustomed to this uncivil discourse.

The consequences of this incivility are obvious. Not only do words wound, they divide us. Words of fear and anger fuel division and hatred. Some will minimize this gesture of civility. Some will debunk the effort and question the intention of those who participated in this public show of civility.

It is true that we will still have our differences. We will still disagree about policies and issues. But beneath our differences there is a commonality that binds us together. We are Americans. We are human.

All of us only see part of the big picture. Our knowledge is partial at best. This requires a spirit of humility and consideration. I applaud this simple act of civility. It is a symbol that can help us correct the mean-spirited and divisive rhetoric of partisan politics.

I know – sitting together will not fix all that troubles us, but it is a first step toward healing the divide. After all, maybe if we could sit together we could learn to talk together. Who knows, we may discover we have more in common than we thought.

Robert White is pastor of Locust Grove Baptist Church in New Market, Ala., and assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Athens State University, where he also directs the Center of Religious Studies and Ethics. This column first appeared on his church blog and is used with permission.

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