Civility Linkblogging: Portland, Oshkosh, Texas, and the Internet

Civility LinkbloggingThis 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 articles can be seen, in a certain way, as Linkblogging’s New Years Resolution Edition: from Wisconsin, a discussion of the problem of gossip in small communities; from Indiana, a renewed commitment to civility on the legislative agenda; from Oregon, an examination of civility’s balance with free speech; and from Texas, a reminder to listen — really listen — to what candidates are telling us as the presidential primaries finally begin to roll around.

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:

Is Facebook Destroying Civility and Truth?
Posted at Raw Story, January 2, 2016

Could it be, as Applebaum and Manjoo suggest, that this latest phase of democratizing our communication channels has turned out to be a politically regressive force, increasing the levels of demagoguery and deceit and civic conflict?

History is undeniably on the side of Zuckerberg. Think of all the step changes in human connection over the eons — from scrolls to the printing press to the pamphleteers to the newspapers. Yes, each transition had its own particular form of tumult, and each undermined its fair share of existing authorities, but with the hindsight of centuries, they are all now considered to be fundamentally on the side of progress: democratizing the flow of information and decision-making in society, and increasing the quality of those decisions. No one is hankering to rewind the clock to, say, the media of the 16th-century: post-Gutenberg, but pre-pamphleteers.

Gossip Not a Hallmark of Civility
Posted by Kaitlyn Lockery at The Northwestern, January 2, 2016

The Oshkosh community, although growing, still has a small town feel. While having that small town feel brings many advantages, it can sometimes feel like everyone knows everyone’s business. This can lead to gossip circulating among the community between friends, coworkers and even family members. Gossip can be damaging to the individual and others who are involved when the story that is being repeated may not be fully true. Why waste your time and energy gossiping about someone or something when that energy could be better spent on something more positive? This could include finding the truth, looking at the story from the other’s point of view, or simply not allowing gossip in your daily discussions with your peers.

One goal that I encourage everyone to try to accomplish this month is, before you repeat any story ask yourself two questions: Is this the truth? Is this story damaging to the person involved? If either of these questions are answered to indicate it is gossip, ignore it.

Indiana House Leaders Commit to Civility
Posted by Dan Carden at The Northwest Indiana Times, January 9, 2016

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, both declared last week that debate over controversial issues likely to come before the House through March 14 will not devolve into name-calling or personal attacks.

“We will do everything in our power to be certain that no matter how difficult the discussions might get on any issue, that we’re respectful of each other, that we talk about ideas and not personalities and that we work together to do what we believe is best for the state of Indiana,” Bosma said.

He emphasized that civility is so important to the 71 House Republicans that Bosma decided to include preserving civility on the caucus legislative agenda, alongside infrastructure funding, student testing reform and cracking down on drug dealers.

‘Civility’ No Reason to Trample Portlanders’ First Amendment Rights
Posted at Oregon Live, January 12, 2016

It’s easy to agree with Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman that civility seems to have taken a nose dive. That presidential candidates openly deride competitors as “losers” is only a little less astounding than the erosion of “Portland Polite” in recent months, where protesters’ heckling has disrupted City Council meetings and caused commissioners to adjourn.

But even with that backdrop, there’s no justification for a resolution that Saltzman plans to introduce on Wednesday with the support of Mayor Charlie Hales. Saltzman is seeking Council approval to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the city may not bar people from attending future council meetings based on previous disruptive behavior, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein reported. Such “prospective exclusion” orders infringe on a person’s First Amendment protections, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon said in his Dec. 31 opinion, siding with a local activist who had been barred for 60 days from City Hall for previous conduct.

As Primaries Draw Near, Let’s Not Forget Civility
Posted by Ferrell Foster at Ethics Daily, January 11, 2015

No party speaks for God. There will be committed Christians, as well as others, running in both parties. Some of them will actually use language that connects deeply with those of us who seek to follow Christ.

Language is a powerful tool for good or evil, right or wrong. As a result, we Christians need to listen with all the intelligence and wisdom we can muster through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Civility Linkblogging: Refugees, Classrooms, and Parts of Speech

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.

The most striking item in this week’s collection is probably linguist John McWhorter’s discussion of the pronoun ‘ze’ at CNN.com. There, he discusses the word in the context of the history of gender-neutral language, and he talks about why pronouns are such a difficult class of words to change. But most significantly, he talks about the necessity of gender-neutral pronouns as a civility issue: calling people what they want to be called, he tells us, is both a matter of courtesy and an affirmation that their voice counts, too.

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:

‘Please, Have Some Tea.’ For Refugees, Civility Before Danger.
Posted by Jeanne Carstensen at PRI.org, October 2, 2015

Yet they both insist on inviting me to tea. This detail — of hospitality offered in a moment of extremis — sticks with me. I had gone to the Basmane neighborhood with some trepidation. After all, it’s the center of human trafficking, as it’s called, the business of moving people illegally across borders. Looking around me I wondered who was who, who was a trafficker, or a middleman, or a refugee. But when I sat down to interview Asas and Nour and others with my microphone held close to their faces I quickly felt at ease.

I offered to pay for the tea but they would not accept. And when beggars came by our table, the refugees reached into their pockets for coins. No one was turned down.

Civility Counts in the Classroom
Posted by Summer Moore at at NWI.com, October 11, 2015

Think about kids. They are inherently civil because they are so curious. Why is the sky blue? Why does Jimmy have two dads? Why does that person live on the street?

They are yearning for answers and will take them from the person they deem the best authority. Most of the time that person is a parent or guardian, a teacher or caregiver.

We feel that we can reach kids when they are deciding how to interact with people that aren’t the same as them. We can show them that where you’re from and what you look like doesn’t have to mean we can’t respect each other.

Goodbye to ‘He’ and ‘She’ and Hello to ‘Ze’?
Posted by John McWhorter at CNN, October 14, 2015

Language changes with the times, and when it comes to our conceptions of gender, the times are most certainly changing.

We are opening up to the idea that binary conceptions of gender are unnecessarily rigid and don’t correspond to the self-image of a great many people, and even that people’s sense of their gender may not correspond to their biological sex. In this new world, a bland opposition between “he” and “she” seems increasingly antique, and even insulting, to many. …

Now, I would hope that pronouns like “ze” would not be imposed with the knuckle-rapping and contemptuous indignation with which the Billy and I rule has been promulgated. However, there is room for presenting “ze” as a matter not of fashion, but of basic civility — people must think of new pronouns as the proper thing to do, not as a stunt.

Searching for Civility After a Campus’s Annus Horribilis
Posted by Mary Beth Mathews at The Christian Century, October 14, 2015

Directly related to speaking up inside the classroom is my second goal: to build empathy among my students, one class session at a time. That can take the form of free-flowing discussions about current events, but it can also be accomplished by asking students to list and expand on the motivating factors at work in American history and religion. Students will almost always condemn anti-Semitism, for example. But they are better able to see how hatred is constructed and used for oppression after they critically examine the confluence of events that led to Henry Ford’s interest in the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Once they understand the background of such hate speech, it becomes easier for them to identify with the victims of hatred, oppression, and ridicule. Then they can more easily recognize similar biases in society today.

We Found Civility on the ‘Lord of the Flies’ of MMO Servers
Posted by Leif Johnson at Motherboard, October 15, 2015

In fact, a month in, a good number of players seem to live by an ad-hoc code, which contrasts sharply with reports of mass slayings at the spawn-in points for new characters during the game’s launch last month. Now that the novelty of killing newbie players where they spawn has worn off, there’s a touch of civility mingled in with the chaos.

I once saw a roving band of high-level players in the lawless zones as I attempted a run from one bank to another with a fairly low-level hero, only to watch them pass within combat distance without so much as glancing at me.

“Cheers,” one said as they trotted by, leaving me thankful for the mercy.

Civility and the Filter Bubble

Last week, writing about Bernie Sanders’s speech at Liberty University, I mentioned in passing the perils of living in a bubbled media environment. I defined the term, offhandedly, as a situation in which individuals on the left or the right… see only news that supports their ideologies. It occurred to me only after I published the post that I had never talked about bubbling here before, and that it is a concept that is essential to the contemporary landscape of civility – or the lack thereof.

Civility and the Filter Bubble

The term bubbling – or filter bubbling – comes from online activist Eli Pariser and gained notoriety in his 2010 book, titled somewhat dramatically The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. Filter bubbling, Pariser says, is the situation in which websites are personalizing themselves to suit our interests:

For example, on Google, most people assume that if you search for BP, you’ll get one set of results that are the consensus set of results in Google. Actually, that isn’t true anymore. Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past.

Now, five years after the publication of Pariser’s book, this is old news (relatively speaking). Not only does Google filter results, but so does Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and a host of other popular sites. In part, the idea behind it is to return results that users will find relevant. And in part it’s a business decision. All of these services are essentially platforms for serving advertisements, and the more content of which users approve, the more likely it is that they will approve of the ads, too.

In any case, the problem with bubbling is that, at its worst, it works as a kind of extension of our preexisting tendency toward confirmation bias. As Jacob Weisberg, writing at Slate, says, it’s now possible to imagine a world in which every person creates his own mental fortress and apprehends the outside world through digital arrow-slits. Or to paraphrase Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web: it is a method by which we create a closed silo of content that excludes the kinds of information that call into question what we already think.

If you are not Web savvy but this sounds familiar, it may be because the filter bubble extends well beyond services like search engines. The editorial process of newspaper and television newsrooms has always shown the ideological biases of its decision-makers. Choices about which items are newsworthy and in what priority they are shown can by definition never be objective.

But what is new since the turn of the millennium is that with the proliferation of cable news channels and online news-analysis outlets like The Daily Kos and The Drudge Report, we can now self-select for progressive or conservative takes on news stories, and for other kinds of ideological preferences from attitudes toward technology, to religion, to whatever else.

In effect, in other words, we increasingly tend to bubble ourselves.

Returning to civility, the problem with the filter bubble should be abundantly clear. If we see only the viewpoints that confirm that our ideological positions are correct, we are apt to assume that they are in fact correct. And even if we know intellectually that other positions exist and that we are not seeing them only because of an invisible algorithm, we are apt to feel that those positions are somehow lesser, or secondary, or exist on the fringe.

This leads to a kind of polarization of opinion where we are less apt to listen to those who disagree with us for two reasons. First, we simply don’t hear from those people as much. And second, when we do hear from those people, we are not in practice at listening past our preconceived notions and taking other points of view seriously. It is not necessarily malicious. But if we don’t exercise those muscles, they are apt to atrophy.

There is a another, perhaps more serious, implication of this for civility, too. The choice not to see those people who disturb our preexisting ideologies – whether we make that choice or whether Google makes that choice for us – represents a kind of devaluation. If all we see, for example, of the culture of rural Louisiana are the most snide, least sympathetic news stories about television’s Duck Dynasty, that will inevitably color our perceptions of rural Louisianans for the worse. And if we don’t see thoughtful information about what people in that region want – if we don’t see them represented as they want to be represented – there is no opportunity at all for the rest of us to change our minds.

The trouble with bubbling, in the end, is in the preliminary work that needs to be done to get to a notion of civility as claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. How can we find ways to not degrade others’ identity, needs and beliefs if our media filters prevent us from having a real sense of what those things are? And how can we find ways to value other people’s opinions if the media we consume tells us not to take them seriously?

That said, there are some things that we can do to thwart bubbling. In terms of search engines: Google searches have, for several years now, offered a ‘verbatim’ option which presents results without the filter; and other search engines, notably DuckDuckGo, explicitly market themselves as non-bubbling.

Civility and the Filter Bubble

But even simpler than that is the choice to read multiple news sources. Sources that agree with our ideologies are great and in many cases valuable, but so are sources that disagree; and so are sources like foreign newspapers that provide an outsider’s perspective. If you read The Washington Post, read The Washington Times, too. If you read The Wall Street Journal, try The New York Times.  And we should all, perhaps, be reading Der Spiegel, or Corriere della Sera, or Al Jazeera.

Since Eli Pariser’s book in 2010, we’ve seen a lot of writing about ways to improve technology to combat bubbling. And yes, that is important. But for the sake of civility, the simple act of diversity in what we read is pretty important, too.

Civility Linkblogging: Marriage Equality, Classroom Management, and Social Media

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, look out for two main issues: how civility can (and does) enhance discussions about marriage equality and gay rights in general, and civility as a tool for classroom management. In the days surrounding the recent Supreme Court marriage legalizing same-sex marriage, we saw stories about how people on both sides of the issues have come together to have civil discussions, and we saw stories about public officials urging civility among their constituents. While outside of the United States, in the UK, we have an extended discussion by Scottish teacher and author Tom Bennett about the value of civility as a tool for modifying behavior in schools.

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:

On Same-Sex Marriage, Finding Civility but Not Common Ground
By Emily Cadei, at Newsweek, June 24, 2014

Yet even as they prepare to do battle on the policy front, both Red Wing and Vander Plaats plan to continue their dialogue, both publicly and privately. Several more public events are tentatively slated for this fall. Vander Plaats hopes it can demonstrate, to politicians and the public, alike that civility is not the same thing as conceding to the other side: “What they’re going to find is we’re not leaving our beliefs.” He’s also encouraging members of his evangelical community to do similar outreach with those on the other side of a particular issue.

Still, they’re just two voices in a cacophony of political campaigns, Super PACs and talking heads that have converged on the state in the advance of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses next February. “As we get more and more into this presidential political caucus time, can Bob and I on some level help de-escalate some of the anger, some of the aggressiveness and animosity” of campaign season? Red Wing wonders. “I don’t know.”

Indiana Attorney General Urges Civility, Respect for Marriage Ruling
Posted at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, June 26, 2015

Indiana’s attorney general is asking residents to treat each other with civility and show respect for the U.S. Supreme Court following its ruling requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement Friday that the court’s 5-4 decision won’t change much in Indiana because the state has allowed same-sex marriage since last year.

We Need to Help Children Develop Habits of Civility and Learning that Last Them a Lifetime
By Tom Bennett, at TES Magazine, June 26, 2015

I’ve worked with new teachers for years on this. I’ve run behaviour management forums for most of my career, and I’ve heard thousands of problems from year after year of teachers. I’ve visited well over 100 schools in my career, and the challenges are often the same: many staff don’t feel trained to handle behaviour, schools often lack clear and effective systems to manage behaviour and many senior staff are unsure how to create a system that works for all parties. This is too important to get wrong. …

Everyone wants a magic bullet intervention that costs little and raises attainment. Well, here it is: make sure every teacher is trained to run a room; make sure every leader and manager is trained to design systems that support behaviours that focus on the common good. Tweak those coordinates early enough in the career of every educator, and watch the lessons land.

Has Civility Lost Its Way on Social Media?
By Kathi Kruse, at Kruse Control, Inc., June 29, 2015

Has Civility Lost Its Way on Social Media? Or is social media just a reflection of a much bigger issue? Have we lost our way as a culture, where civility towards our fellow sentient beings has diminished to the point of no return?

After observing this situation for awhile now, I realize that some of it is simply people reacting. But reactionary behavior makes it easy to lose control of one’s faculties and good judgment. Things can get so bad that the concept of “think before you post” doesn’t even enter into your consciousness.

Make no mistake, misdirected anger and social media do not mix well.

Local League of Women Voters Aims for Civility at Public Meetings
By David Sneed, at SanLuisObispo.com, July 2, 2015

The nonpartisan group has been working on this subject for the past two years but has made it their main focus this year. On Tuesday, county supervisors will consider adopting a resolution by the group promoting civility in conducting business with elected officials, county staff and the public.

“This is not a whim; this is a passion,” said Marilee Hyman, immediate past president of the League. “Civil discourse is necessary to make democracy work.”

Supervisors are expected to approve the resolution. Last year, they voted unanimously to give a $1,800 grant to the League to fund its civil discourse campaign.

Tommy and Me and the Mending Wall

C. John Grom is a retired executive recruiter whose passion for effective government led him to found of “Right and Left Inc.”, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit corporation committed to the promotion of political civility. He is the Producer and Moderator of an award winning local television talk show “The Right and Left Discussion Forum” which is available on the Internet at www.my.pegcentral.com, and a frequent guest contributor to the editorial page of his local newspaper. In addition he manages www.civilitymatters.org, a web site and blog promoting political civility. Mr. Grom holds a BSBA degree from the University of Akron.

Dewey_Defeats_Truman

In 1948 Tommy and I were nine years old and we got into a fight by the bike rack behind our school. He liked Truman and I liked Dewey. I don’t know why I liked Dewey or why Tommy liked Truman, the way they looked I suppose. Why does any nine year old decide who they would like to see elected President of the United States? All I remember is that it mattered enough at the moment for Tommy and me to duke it out.

The election was a few weeks away and we were both aware of the adult conversations that took place around us. I was a Dewey fan much like I was a fan of the Cleveland Indians who had just won the World Series for the first time in twenty eight years. Anything positive that was said by adults about Dewey or the Indians I took for gospel and repeated it with my own embellishments. By the same token I would reject out of hand anything positive about Truman or negative about Dewey or the Indians.

Tommy felt the same way, only opposite, so we argued. We insulted each other and we called each other names and actually came to blows that one time. But we were only nine years old. Neither one of us knew much about either candidate or the issues of the day but it didn’t matter we had each picked our side and we believed anything that supported it and we built a wall between us.

Our wall was something like Robert Frost’s Mending Wall in his great poem of the same name. Frost describes how he and his neighbor would meet every spring to repair the winter damaged wall that divided their property. On a day we meet to walk the line and set the wall between us as we go. To each the boulders that have fallen to each…. We wear our fingers rough with handling them. Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, one on a side. It comes to little more: There it is we do not need a wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. Frost goes on,

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense.

Tommy and I did not ask to whom we were likely to give offense; offense was the centerpiece of our relationship. We were not trying to convert each other, we were trying in every way possible to demean and diminish each other with our words and gestures. We didn’t listen, we didn’t question, we didn’t care we just wanted to strike out. Our reward, if there was one, was the belief that we had launched the most damaging insult before the bell rang ending recess. But, we were only nine years old and that’s the way nine-year-olds behave.

I have friends on social media sites who remind me a great deal of the nine-year-old Tommy and me. The insults and name calling hurled across the political wall have no apparent purpose other than to give offense and no apparent result other than to harden people against each other. They often link their page to ultra partisan websites that appear to exist only to provide their site visitors with reinforcing material for their prejudices or additional insults to hurl over the wall.

There is a good reason we are not allowed to vote when we are nine years old. At that age we still have a lot to learn about cooperation, collaboration, reconciliation, consensus building, compromise, listening to each other, caring about each others’ needs and make our contribution to a society that provides possibilities for all of us to live happy, healthy and productive lives.

When we are nine years old we have not yet learned to ask ourselves before we build a wall, what am I walling in or walling out and to whom I was likely to give offense. We know as mature adults that good fences do not necessarily make good neighbors. Sometimes we have to tear down the wall to see that we really have a lot in common with each other, that without the wall we can do things together that no one group of us could possibly do alone.

Civility Linkblogging: School, Faith, and Social Media

Linkblogging
By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

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 linkblogging segment is anchored by two interviews — one with Ronald D. Liebowitz, President of Middlebury college, and the other with Os Guinness, founder of the Trinity Forum. Dr. Liebowitz’s comes in response to an act of incivility on Middlebury’s campus, in which a group of students removed a 9/11 memorial display for what they believed to be sound reasons. While Guinness’s interview is more broad-ranging, but pertains to the question of the role of Christianity in American politics, and its place as part of civil debate in the American public square.

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 on to the list:

Civility Starts with Remembering Good Manners
Posted by Jeff Kaley at the Duncan Banner, November 17, 2013

Dr. P.M. Forni, whose books Choosing Civility and The Civility Solution got me rambling on this subject in the first place, suggests we begin by changing how we treat one another on the interpersonal level.

While composing The Civility Solution, Forni surveyed people about what bothers them most, and came up with what he calls “The Terrible 10” situations that bring out anger in people

Civility, Please
Posted at Middlebury Magazine, November 19, 2013

President Ronald D. Liebowitz of Middlebury College: Civility is a must. We’re an academic institution, and so we don’t only teach facts. We also teach how to argue, how to debate, how to engage, how to learn. And being civil is a key part of doing all of these things.

12 Ways to More Civiity on Social Media
Posted by Alex Garcia at the Chicago Tribune, November 20, 2013

I was looking over a past post about the Sun-Times firings and said to myself, “Wow, I sound really angry here.” The truth is, I was. I just didn’t think that I sounded that angry. In my mind, it was pointed and strongly worded for the circumstances. At the time, a CNN blog commented that my post was “acid” and I remember thinking, “acid”? Really?

I guess that’s the case when you’re upset. You don’t realize how you sound until you read it later and realize it has all the nuance of “FLAME ON!”

Ministers Seek to Set Tone for Elections
Posted by Alva James-Johnson at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, November 21, 2013

In a press conference organized by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance Social Action Committee, the ministers denounced what they called “character assassinations,” but declined to cite any specific examples.

The Rev. Johnny Flakes III, pastor of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church, called on people in business, politics, medicine, education, the military and the media “to stand up with us to promote and practice at the highest level human dignity, civility, respect, unity, justice and integrity.”

Civility in the Public Square
Posted at Point of View, November 21, 2013

Os Guinness, co-founder of The Trinity Forum: Misunderstandings surround the idea of civility; it’s frequently mistaken for squeamishness about cultural differences, false tolerance or dinner-party etiquette. Classically, civility is a republican virtue, with a small “r,” and a democratic necessity, with a small “d.” It’s the only way you can have a diverse society, freely but civilly, peacefully.

As Christians, we have deeper motivations still [for championing civility]. Followers of Jesus are called to be peacemakers, with truth and grace; Paul asks us to speak the truth with love. We’re called to love our enemies and do good to those who wrong us. This is our Christian motivation for championing the classical virtue of civility.