“Civility is not not saying negative or harsh things. It is not the absence of critical analysis. It is the manner in which we are sharing this territorial freedom of political discussion. If our discourse is yelled and screamed and interrupted and patronized, that’s uncivil.” – Richard Dreyfuss
We have a civility crisis in our culture. The problem is, we’re too busy cutting others down to recognize how uncivil we have become.
In numerous contexts, civility has been replaced with, “If I disagree with you, I must publicly diminish you. I must paint you as my adversary, mock your values, even lie about you if necessary, with little regard for the ramifications of my words and behaviors.”
Sadly, all levels of government are not immune, which is ironic when you consider civility is a foundational government building block.
Civility is an adverb. It is derived from the word civil. The origin of the word is late Middle English. That word is from the Old French word civilite, which is from the Latin civilitas, from civilis meaning, “relating to citizens”. In early use, the term denoted the state of being a citizen; and as a result, denoted the action of practicing good citizenship or orderly behavior. Politeness became associated with civility in the 16th century.
In local government, we must consistently remind employees that no matter what choices others make, we as public servants can model putting citizens first. We can be orderly. We can embrace politeness. These characteristics can be learned and these attitudes can be embraced. How? Consider the following possibilities:
- An organization’s governing body can model civility in public forums. If council or commission members disagree, they can respectfully argue facts without attacking character or motive.
- Executive team members can model civility in day-to-day leadership. Doing so decreases an “us versus them” mindset. Decreasing distrust creates opportunity for trust to flourish.
- Employees can model civility when interacting with citizens. Even if a situation involves bad news, i.e., a shut-off notice, citation, ticket, etc., the issuer can treat the recipient with dignity and respect.
As a former county commissioner, I realize civility is often easier discussed than practiced. Strong emotions, personal values, and competing agendas can fuel uncivil fires. Ironically, even the strongest emotions, values, and agendas can be expressed within a civil framework. In other words, I can honor you even if I strongly disagree with you.
Intentionally practice civility. Good governance cannot exist without it.
President of Online Learning, Strategic Government Resources
Well said, Greg. Much needed.