An adage about preaching goes: “The weaker your point, the louder you make it.”

I feel that way about the talk-radio disciples showing up at town hall meetings and screaming about the government’s efforts to kill old people. Civil, even when passionate, discourse has given way to unfruitful disruption.

Yale law professor Stephen Carter’s 1998 book, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, should be required reading for all of us.

In a PBS interview back when the book was released, Carter noted that the first mass transportation in our nation was by railroad. The close proximity of passengers led to a voluntary code of behavior in order to make everyone comfortable. (Good thing there were no cell phones then, I guess.)

After leaving the rails, Americans have been less willing to sacrifice personal wants for the communal good, he said. The lost civility he spoke of a decade ago seems to have drifted even further from our American experience.

In the 1998 PBS interview he stated: “…[W]hile we tend to think about civility as being about manners, as being about behavior, and it is partly that, I’d like to think of it as something larger, that civility is the sum of all the sacrifices that we make for the sake of living together. And one of the things I think we’re losing in America today is the sense of — to put it simply — going the extra mile, doing something we don’t have to do that the law doesn’t require of us in order to help someone else’s life be a little bit better. The sacrifice will make for a common enterprise.”

Wonder where that idea came from … “going the extra mile?”

Well, I’ll walk a mile or two to avoid the kind of shouting matches that have replaced civil discourse in many places. It might have something to do with enduring church business meetings as a kid.

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