Civility Linkblogging: Tom Ridge, Rick Scott, and Convicted Civility

Civility LinkbloggingCivility Linkblogging is an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This installment is largely eclectic. It features former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge’s thoughts on Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain, and Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton’s considerations of convicted civility. It also features an important insight on civility and power: Nadine Smith, writing about an incident in which Florida Governor Rick Scott was yelled at in a coffee shop, tells us that civility should never be an instrument used to silence disagreement or constrain the disempowered.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

When Civility Really Means Silence
Posted by Nadine Smith at The Huffington Post, April 7, 2016

I lament that we live in a world that exalts entrenched opinion over reason and facts, that rewards bullying over empathy. So I understand the discomfort expressed by a few of my friends who see her outburst as further evidence that the last threads holding our democracy together are being pulled apart from the left and the right.

But that analysis avoids any discussion of who holds power. These are not equal sides in a debate. The governor’s agenda has been uncivil and profane. His actions have cost lives.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge: Civility in Politics Matters More Than Ever
Posted by Tom Ridge at Time.com, April 8, 2016

While it is easy to lament incivility, I prefer the approach taken by Allegheny College, who this week named Biden and McCain the winners of its annual Prize for Civility in Public Life. I’m proud to be an honorary degree recipient from Allegheny and applaud college President Jim Mullen’s selection.

Ask anyone who has sat across a table from Biden or McCain, and they’ll tell you the same thing—that these are men of principle who hold strong to their beliefs and will argue passionately in defense of their positions. But they also understand that one need not demonize their opposition in order to effectively govern. Their remarkable careers speak to their ability to work collegially and effectively on both sides of the aisle and to rebuke the notion that Republicans and Democrats can’t get things done together.

A Little Civility, Please
Posted by Marianne Heimes at Savannah Now, April 11, 2016

I love my children, grandchildren, and great grandson. My hope is that they will live in a safe world, safe to walk down any street, safe to sit on their front porch at any time, safe to drive Highway 80 to the beach, safe to walk through Forsyth Park if they wish and free to vote for the candidate of their choice and know their vote counted.

Those are just a few of the many things I wish for them — and for you as well. …

My faith tells me we are going to be all right when all is said and done. I just hope that what is said and done in the future will be more civil. And if you wonder what exactly civil means, Webster describes it as politeness. Pretty simple when you think about it. Let’s all try it.

The Road to Restoring Civility
Posted by Shelby Taylor at Gainsville.com, April 12, 2016

Today’s university students will be called upon to solve some of society’s most critical issues. Whether it is through expert speakers, timely research, service learning opportunities or internships, our center provides critical programming that can help lay the groundwork for a more civil and open-minded approach to politics and policy.

The road to recovery starts with educating the next generation that indignation and insults have no place in public discourse and that we must respect and appreciate the opinions and the humanity of others.

Embrace Convicted Civility
Posted by Andrew K. Benton at The Pepperdine University Graphic, April 22, 2016

I ran across a phrase recently that I like very much: convicted civility. As soon as I saw those two words together I knew immediately and exactly what they meant. I admire strong convictions presented fairly and without elements of ad hominem attack in pursuit of truth and, even, fairness and justice. Lutheran scholar Martin Marty once said, “People these days who are civil often lack strong convictions, and people with strong religious convictions often are not very civil. What we need is convicted civility.” The time has come for convicted civility in all things.

I have held these personal thoughts for the past few weeks, uncertain if they would add much to any conversation. While I cannot precisely define the phrase convicted civility, I know what it means to me. It means that we can hear and process words with which we do not agree and that we can be unafraid to refute them with truth, courage and confidence. It means that as we encounter new thinking and information, that we are free to ask hard questions and to pursue answers to questions important to us. Questions should not be threatening, and answers should not be unassailable when given. Steel sharpens steel in the dialectic of learning and living.

Bernie Sanders in the Belly of the Beast

Just to be clear: the Institute for Civility in Government does not endorse any specific policy positions or candidates for office. And we are not endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders for any kind of office now. That said, this week Bernie Sanders had a moment that is exemplary of many of the faces of civility that we explore here on this blog. And we do feel that it is important to give credit where credit is due.

Sanders, a left-wing, politically independent, self-proclaimed socialist from the small northern state of Vermont, running for President as a Democrat, chose to travel to Lynchburg, Virginia this week to speak at Liberty University, a conservative Evangelical Christian institution founded by the late famed televangelist Jerry Falwell, and run today by his son.

His speech, as Jennifer Harper of The Washington Times writes, covered some familiar Sanders ground: he talked about poverty, health care and insurance challenges, youth unemployment, and unequal wealth distribution… equating them with injustice and a lack of ethics and morality. But in framing those positions – and in explaining why he came to Liberty University at all – this is what he had to say:

Let me start off by acknowledging what I think all of you already know. And that is the views that many here at Liberty University have and I, on a number of important issues, are very, very different. I believe in a woman’s rights and the right of a woman to control her own body. I believe gay rights and gay marriage.

Those are my views, and it is no secret. But I came here today because I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.

Too often in our country — and I think both sides bear responsibility for us — there is too much shouting at each other. There is too much making fun of each other.

Now, in my view, and I say this as somebody whose voice is hoarse, because I have given dozens of speeches in the last few months, it is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you…. That’s not hard to do. That’s what politicians by and large do.

We go out and we talk to people who agree with us.

But it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.

And it is important to see where if possible, and I do believe it is possible, we can find common ground.

It is not insignificant, here, that Senator Sanders talks about civility by name. That in itself is valuable in what may well be an uncivil Presidential campaign season.

But what is so important about this statement – what makes it exemplary – is that Sanders insists that we talk, not shout, across the aisle. If the point of the governing process – as we here at the Institute believe – involves listening past one’s preconceptions and disagreeing without disrespect in order to achieve policy outcomes that are acceptable and beneficial to as many people as possible, then the simple act of speaking to the (so-called) other side is an important first step.

And in our bubbled media environment, where it is entirely possible for individuals on the left or the right to see only news that supports their ideologies, going in person to a venue that The Washington Times‘ Cal Thomas jokingly calls the belly of the beast is perhaps the most effective way to bridge that divide.

Sanders’s message, as Laura Turner of the Religion News Service puts it, is that if we could all get on the same page about the idea that we ought to treat other people the way we want to be treated, the world would be a better place to live than it is right now. Sanders says this when he tells Liberty University’s students that if nothing else, progressives and conservative Christians should be on the same page about Matthew 7:12: so in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you. And he says it, too, as he ponders civility: that there is too much shouting at each other. There is too much making fun of each other. And every low blow is an instance where we fail to recognize that disagreement isn’t the end of a conversation, but the beginning.

Sanders, in this speech, is engaging in what Martin Marty calls convicted civility. It is the notion, as John Backman put it here on The Civility Blog last year, that people of strong conviction should seek to have their views heard and respected; but in doing so, they should seek with equal earnestness to hear and respect the convictions of others, even – or perhaps especially – when they disagree.

And in doing so, Sanders is offering a good lesson to all the prospective candidates for every office going into the 2016 election season – and to all the rest of us, too. If more candidates were willing to engage, rather than shun, their version of the belly of the beast, they might have more success listening and being listened to. And in the process, they might find the kind of consensus that leads to good governing and productive policy, and not just a spirited campaign.

Civility Linkblogging: Home Runs, Japan, and Islam

Civility Linkblogging
A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week’s post highlights the possibilities of civility amid rivalry and disagreement. It features a piece about convicted civility — and how it can be enacted in the workplace. It covers the storied 1961 battle between Yankees Micky Mantle and Roger Maris to break Babe Ruth’s home-run record. And it highlights a kind of resolution between the seemingly conflicting values of free speech and civility, and the seemingly conflicting forces of Islam and the United States.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

The importance of Civility: What We Can Learn from Japan
Posted by Rob Walker at RN, 11 May, 2015

Civility was a determining factor in 2011 when we began to consider spending another year in Japan.

Back in Australia I’d noticed a further decline in civility, not just in schools but in society at large. Political discourse didn’t seem possible without personal insult anymore, whether it’s in parliament, on the radio or on the internet.

We returned to Japan in 2012, this time teaching senior high school and adult students.

For me there was a huge sense of relief.

Four Ways to Bring Convicted Civility Into The Workplace
Posted by Paul Jankowski at Forbes, 12 May, 2015

One of the most important places to exhibit convicted civility is in the workplace. This is where we spend the majority of our time and we need to invest in creating an atmosphere that fosters healthy, spirited debate. So what do you do when there is a disagreement? I’m not talking about a disagreement over what kind of coffee should be stocked in the office…but rather something that touches deeply on a person’s values, convictions and beliefs. How do you acknowledge a difference of opinion?

On Appreciation
Posted by Bea Larsen at Beyond Civility, May 15, 2015

Our need to be understood and appreciated goes to our very core. Yet, when in conflict with another, our need to project strength, not weakness, may obscure the importance of this human condition.

The M&M Boys: A Profile in Civility
Posted by Michael Beschloss at The New York Times, 22 May, 2015

Phil Pepe records in his 2011 book on the home run race, “1961*” (Triumph Books), that when Maris was booed, Mantle would joke, “Hey, Rog, thanks for taking my fans away.”

The two players laughed at stories that their contest had turned them into personal enemies. Mantle recalled that when Maris once brought the morning newspapers and coffee back to their apartment, he said, “Wake up, Mick, we’re fighting again!” Another time, when Mantle spotted a sportswriter next to Maris, he deliberately called out, “Maris, I hate your guts!” and the next day, the two men searched the papers to see if the reporter had succumbed to the ruse.

Free Speech and Civility in America and in Islam
Posted by Sarah Sayeed at The Huffington Post, 28 May, 2015

If we want Muslim societies to adopt democratic commitments to free speech, we must advocate and be role models of both free speech and civility, understanding that democracy requires both. Ultimately, we cannot advocate for free speech at the price of civility. If what is free speech to us is interpreted as hateful and uncivil to many Muslims in other parts of the world, we will be unable to effectively communicate the merits of free speech.

Building bridges with Muslims and paving the way for democracy will be easier when we leverage the similarity between Islam’s speech rules and America’s. The first word revealed to Prophet Muhammad is a command to “read,” which affirms the importance of reasoning and critical thought. The Quran instructs followers that diversity is created by God, in order that we learn from one another. “Shura” or mutual consultation, is a Quranic commandment, in both private and public realms, consistent with democratic practice. … These principles and practices support plurality of thought and free speech. They also provide a foundation for respectful debate about Islam and Muslims’ practice of their faith.

Institute Featured in Houston Chronicle Blog, The Peace Pastor

Last Sunday, the Institute and its definition of civility were featured in The Houston Chronicle as part of its ongoing blog series, The Peace Pastor, written by Marty Troyer of the Houston Mennonite church.

Troyer, writing about what we might perceive to be difficult conversations, tells us that there are two keys to preparing for such an encounter. First, he says, is to consider civility – that the point of any hard interaction must be claiming and caring for our identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. And second, that we must be self-differentiated – have the capacity to be yourself while remaining connected to your community.

This pair of important precepts, says Troyer, might better prepare us for the sorts of conversations that are necessary – even key – but that we might not feel ready to face. Like discussion of how faithful Christians should relate to our lesbian and gay friends and families.

We can, Troyer writes, humbly acknowledge our LGBT members and family have repeatedly stated that traditional non-affirming policies are dehumanizing and experienced as violence. We can accept that the LGBT community is statistically the most vulnerable to sexual abuse and overwhelmingly find non-affirming policies leave them with no other option but non-participation in the life of the church.

It needn’t change our opinions, he writes, but accepting that other people have values and needs that are important to them, even as ours are important to us, puts us in a position to open a dialog rather than end it.

What Troyer advocates here is a position close to Martin Marty and Richard Mouw’s notion of convicted civility. In an article for The Civility Blog last year, guest author John Backman wrote that convicted civility asks those of us with strong convictions to honor all others, seek their well-being, and hear their deepest convictions, particularly when we disagree.

And this is what Troyer is asking for here.

Troyer does not say that we must accept the needs, values, and opinions of others without reservation. He doesn’t say that we must bend to the will of others without regard for our own. What he says is that by first knowing our own minds, and then accepting that others know their minds too, we can do more to make sure that everybody’s needs are met.

We can maybe compromise a little bit on policy without compromising too much on integrity. And that’s a pretty good place to be.

Beyond Convicted Civility

John Backman is a regular contributor to Huffington Post Religion and an associate of an Episcopal monastery, who has written extensively on topics in Christian spirituality, including contemplative practice and its ability to help us dialogue across divides. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012), and his articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications, progressive and conservative. John currently serves on the board of directors for the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation.

Is convicted civility the best we can do?

Even asking the question seems petulant — like scolding a friend who traded in her gas guzzler for a Prius. After all, she could have bought an electric car, right? Many of us have no patience for such quibbling over degrees of self-improvement, and with good reason.

Convicted civility is our Prius. Its champions include two celebrated intellects in U.S. seminaries: Lutheran scholar Martin Marty and evangelical thinker Richard Mouw. Indeed, Marty’s quote in the 1990s both described the landscape for convicted civility and hinted at its definition: “People who have strong convictions these days aren’t very civil, and people who are civil often don’t have very strong convictions. What we need is ‘convicted civility.'”

On one side, convicted civility asks those of us with strong convictions to honor all others, seek their well-being, and hear their deepest convictions, particularly when we disagree. On the other side, convicted civility calls on “nice people,” those who “go along to get along,” to give voice to what they hold dear. In this way, any dialogue reaps the benefit of their voices when their voices have not been heard before.

Clearly, convicted civility addresses a crying need in our public square. Just as important, it answers the criticism of civility as too polite to correct injustice, or not adversarial enough to contribute the conflicting ideas that lead to better decisions. That’s where the convictions come in: they are not silenced or glossed over, but rather injected — sometimes boldly — into the general conversation, allowing them to make their full impact without excessive rancor or rudeness.

So convicted civility is the answer then, right? Not entirely. Even while touting it, we can make a case for moving beyond it — for jumping from the Prius to the electric car, if you will. The reason is simple: The limitation of convicted civility is that it leaves us in our convictions.

Yes, convictions can be good in themselves. They come to us from a lifetime’s worth of difficult lessons, intellectual challenge, and painstaking observation. In many cases, those hard-won convictions are precisely the most valuable thing we have to contribute to the betterment of the world. By ignoring them entirely, we hold back something essential to civil dialogue. In the process, we limit the power of dialogue to do what it does so well: bridge divides, build relationships, help us grow in wisdom, forge solutions to difficult issues.

We also limit the power of dialogue when we hold our convictions with unshakable certainty.

Here’s why. Each of us, in the grand scheme of things, can know next to nothing with any certainty whatever. What we “knew” about, for instance, the nutritional value of eggs is not what we know today. Two centuries ago, many religionists “knew” all about the blessings of slavery; no conscientious believer ascribes to that “knowledge” today.

Herein lies the supreme value of civil dialogue. When I realize how much I don’t know, it shows me that I need what you know. That drives me into dialogue with you to get closer to understanding the reality behind the issue at hand — and to understanding one another.

But when part of me is certain about my convictions, unwilling to relax my grip, I am detracting from my ability to listen openheartedly. Just as important, I am denying myself access to the deeper understanding of my convictions that may come in light of what you are saying. I even limit where the conversation might go, because my convictions may require me to silence you with “I can’t go there.”

A better solution, I think, is to hold our convictions, but hold them lightly — even suspending them for the brief time we’re listening to the other. This enables two things. First, with our convictions temporarily not in the picture, we can devote our whole hearts and our full attention to our dialogue partner. Second, it allows our partner’s convictions to interact with our own. Adding this openhearted exposure to convictions outside ourselves can add depth and nuance to our own convictions.

Many years ago, when I ascribed to a fundamentalist version of Christianity, I happened to drive two hours to a business appointment with a certified astrologer. My faith was clear on the evils of astrology. So when she started talking about her practice, I had a choice: I could leave the filter of my convictions in place, searching for holes in her argument, or I could lay the filter aside.

By choosing the second course, I learned so much more than I would have otherwise. She told me about the vast gulf between serious astrology and the tabloid version, the practical aims and goals of the profession, and other things that, together, painted a portrait of an alternative worldview that reasonable people could hold.

Did I throw my convictions to the four winds? No. Did laying them aside temporarily add nuance to my beliefs? Oh yes: as a result, the conversation not only dispelled my fear of astrology, but more broadly prepared me to approach other belief systems — and embrace their practitioners — with curiosity and welcome. For the development of my faith at that time, this was a watershed.

Convicted civility holds so much potential for improving the plight of our public square. It does not have to be the last word, however. Holding our convictions lightly, recognizing how much we don’t know, can open our hearts to a deeper practice of civility: the kind that welcomes all with open arms.

Civility Linkblogging: Minnesota, Tennessee, Australia, and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week’s links include two calls for civility from the state of Tennessee, a call for humility — not civility — from Minnesota, a conservative perspective on civility and civic engagement, and a discussion of the civility situation in Australian politics, and the creeping allure of political polarization.

Do you have a link that you think would be right for this segment? Please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

A Call for Convicted Civility
Posted by Terry Paulson at Townhall.com, June 17, 2013

One of the reasons people do not engage in political dialogue is not just the lack of information; they’re turned off by the negative intensity of what passes as political talk in today’s coarse cultural landscape. Talk shows thrive on conflict; the greater the conflict, the more people listen. It’s the motivated and involved that write the reactions to the columns you read, but they often do so quickly without taking time to soften their choice of words or better formulate their criticism.

The Silence of the Moderates
Posted by Julia Baird of The Sydney Morning Herald, June 22, 2013

Leaders of all parties must tolerate climates in which party members can question them. This is especially true for an opposition after a decisive election result. Political scientists say moderate members generally do better in marginal electorates. This means strong defeat is more likely to push an opposition party further left or right as members from safe seats are often more extreme, because they do not have to appeal to the broader middle.

And by moderation, I mean a respect for the centre, for civility, for reason, for robust and free debate, and for opponents – and, in Australia today, a commitment to human rights. A healthy respect for moderation would surely ensure a more healthy respect for our Parliament, which all politicians crave.

Lets Return Some Civility to City Politics
Posted by Joel Wallace at The Leaf Chronicle, June 22, 2013

My purpose in speaking up is not to embarrass or chastise anyone. I love Clarksville and I love serving our community. I simply want us to be able to put the petty stuff aside, move forward, and deal with the big issues that face a growing city like ours.

Civility’s Overrated. Humility, On the Other Hand …
Editorial, posted at TwinCities.com, June 26, 2013

We’re not even calling for civility.

There’s nothing wrong with disagreement. It’s essential, in fact. We elect our leaders to express their beliefs and hold to them passionately when judgment says they must. Anger and raised voices can be part of the give-and-take that makes better public policy.

We should, though, expect a bit of humility from those in the public realm — along with some insight on what’s appropriate, and what’s not.

Mr Rogers Still Teaches Us Civility
Posted by Cliff Cleaveland at The Chattanooga Times Free Press, June 27, 2013

It may be a stretch for us to love each other, given our different backgrounds and philosophies. But we can certainly extend respect to every member of this chamber. We can demonstrate to the people in our districts that differences can be settled peaceably. Because we are so often in the spotlight we can become role models for a gentler method of resolving conflicts. Now let us proceed with our important work.