Institute Featured in Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Institute Featured in Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park, Colorado. Painted by Albert Bierstadt. 1877

The Institute, its founders, and its definition of civility were all featured last week in the Estes Park Trail-Gazette, a weekly newspaper out of Estes Park, Colorado. In an opinion piece titled “Civility Matters. Civility Works,” town administrator Frank Lancaster frames the question of civility in terms of sport. Why, he asks, do we tolerate unsportsmanlike conduct in public discourse when we would never tolerate it on the field? Can you imagine if we had the ability to throw a flag for “unsportsmanlike conduct” in a public meeting or anonymous social media posts?

Lancaster, who became the Estes Park town administrator in May of 2012, writes that in his experience in local government, expressing your ideas and opinions in a civil manner is much more effective than ranting, raving and bullying. And by civil manner, he says, he explicitly means the formulation of civility put forth by Institute co-founders Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath: claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.

He goes on to talk extensively about what, in practical terms, this means for how one should conduct one’s self in civic matters. He tells us, for example, to avoid ad hominem attacks: personal attacks can degrade the discussion to an “us versus them” scenario where we can lose sight of the objective. Don’t swear, he says. It is incendiary — not thought provoking. And avoid relying on stereotypes because not only is it insulting, it is counterproductive. Because no group of people all hold identical ideas and beliefs about anything, stereotyping can create a filter that interferes with our judgment in a negative way.

In all, Frank Lancaster offers nine suggestions for creating a more civil public discourse.

His purpose, he says, is to offer a gentle reminder in a time of strife. The town of Estes Park has had some fairly contentious issues to discuss as a community lately. They have, thus far, discussed these issues with civility and respect. But we can always be more effective in our public discussions, Lancaster says. And in that spirit, it behooves us to remember that courtesy and productivity are not mutually exclusive virtues.

If you want to know more about Frank Lancaster and civility in Estes Park, Colorado, click here.

Institute Co-Founders will appear on Coffee Party Internet Radio Show, Tuesday

Reclaiming-Civility-Cover-(Large)Institute co-founders Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath will appear on Coffee Party USA‘s Internet Radio channel on Tuesday night to talk about the Institute’s book, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square – 10 Rules That Work, and take live questions. The show is hosted through BlogTalkRadio.com, and is part of the February iteration of the Coffee Party’s monthly book club.

Listeners to the program will be able to call in directly to speak with the show’s hosts, or chat live through the BlogTalkRadio website.

Coffee Party USA is an organization that holds many values in common with the Institute. They are a non-partisan, grassroots organization with the goals of promoting cultural changes to address political disengagement and ideological polarization, and encouraging inclusive, civil, fact-based, solution-oriented dialogue about pressing policy issues.

If you want to listen, you can tune in here at 8:30pm EST on Tuesday, February 24. The phone number to call to ask a question is (646) 929-2495. Or you can ask questions online through the same page. But you must register for a free BlogTalkRadio account, first.

Update:  In case you missed Coffee Party USA’s chat about Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square, you can catch the whole thing here.  Tune it.  It’s interesting stuff.

Civility Linkblogging: Education, Religious Expression, and Free Speech

Civility Linkblogging

A Lynx, because Linkblogging

Welcome back to civility linkblogging. In this recurring segment here at the Civility blog, we highlight discourse in print and around the web that engages with notions of civility, either by expounding on some aspect of it we might not otherwise think about, or by showing us civility — or lack thereof — in action.

This week’s links come at the nexus of what we here in the United States think of as the First Amendment. The majority of our articles this week are about religion, free speech, and civility. We have one that offers some guidance on the limits of free speech in an educational context; another that points toward a balance between religion, politics, and civility; and a third about policing civility in one of the world’s largest collaborative scholarly projects — the Wikipedia.

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 Humanities Can Help Us Rekindle Notions of the Common Good
Posted by Bernard L. Kavaler at The CT Mirror, January 20, 2015

Nearly half of millennials – significantly more than any other generation – now accept the notion that incivility is part of the American political process. But in a recent poll by Weber Shandwick, nearly one in four millennials believe civility will improve over the next few years, two to four times the percentage of other generations. While 56 percent of millennials say the Internet and social media are making civility worse, they remain optimistic.

Given the dizzying changes and challenges that demand our response, common ground and the common good are too often viewed — to our collective detriment — as unwelcome capitulation, unbridled naiveté, or utterly unattainable.

Civility and Free Speech in Education
Posted by David Moshman at The Huffington Post, January 21, 2015

What to do? Nothing in any Supreme Court decision requires censorship. Far from promoting civility, censorship is itself uncivil. Teachers can and should promote civil discussion without censoring or punishing uncivil speech. They can be models of civility, can urge and remind students to respect each other, can engage students in serious argumentation, and can evaluate the quality of their arguments. None of this requires censorship.

Sometimes there will be controversy about what gets said and sometimes there will be efforts to prevent or punish uncivil ideas or modes of expression. We should not assume that if academic freedom is threatened the First Amendment will come to its rescue. Rather than rely on wishful thinking about constitutional law, educators at all levels must clarify and explain the academic basis for academic freedom and promote policies that protect that freedom for all.

Civility Is a Currency We Must Value
Posted by Martin Flanagan at The Age, January 24, 2015

Culturally and politically, I belong to the West. I happen to believe in parliamentary democracy… That people can routinely commit appalling deeds while claiming to be acting in the name of religion is precisely why I do not wish to live in a religious state. I want my daughters and granddaughters to have access to the social rights and liberties that have been hard-won by women in Western societies. I believe in a secular democratic society and intend to do my bit defending it.

What I am arguing for is civility. To quote a diplomat’s wife from the 18th century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.” As for Ali Faraj, he and I’ll keep talking. About what? About everything. At the moment, he’s badgering me to take him for a trip around Tasmania. He knows I’m from down there and wants to see the place. Ali loves Australia.

Incivility Is on the Rise. Five Ways to Avoid Being Part of the Problem
Posted by Michelle Powell at AL.com, January 26, 2015

Millennials reportedly experience bad behavior on a daily basis. And admittedly, they are themselves the culprits four in 10 times, yet Millennials are the very generation with the most hope that things will get better.

The 2014 report shows 23 percent optimism for improved civility in future America as compared to no more than 11 percent from the other generations.

So what does all of this mean for business? According to the study, an uncivil work environment has caused 27 percent of millennials to quit a job. And because of poor treatment by a company representative nearly half (49 percent) have either stopped patronizing a company or told others not to support that business.

Civility, Wikipedia, and the Conversation on Gamergate
Posted by Philippe Beaudette at the Wikimedia Blog, January 27, 2015

Civility is an important concept for Wikipedia: it is what allows people to collaborate and disagree constructively even on difficult topics. It ensures people are able to focus their energy on what really matters: building a collaborative free encyclopedia for the world.

A group of trusted, long-term volunteer English Wikipedia editors (known as the Arbitration Committee) is now reviewing the conduct of the editors who participated on the Gamergate controversy article discussions. Their mandate is to review editor conduct, and address disruptions so that Wikipedia can remain a civil, productive place for all editors. They may do so through issuing warnings, bans, or other means.

Identity, and the Mechanics of Persuasive Conversations

Civility is obviously very important, but do you ever feel like it’s increasingly tough to find common ground? Do you ever look at those big, divisive issues that have plagued American politics — abortion, the death penalty, immigration, etc. — and think to yourself: if we cannot even agree to disagree, how can we ever get to the point where we can fruitfully make policy?

The idea of a civil politics is premised on negotiation: the notion that if I tell you what I need, and if you tell me what you need, assuming that we’re both acting in good faith, we can — we hope — each get some of what we want without trampling the core values of the person sitting across the table. The idea of a civil politics, in other words, assumes that both parties are rational in their decision-making process, and that they want to move forward.

But most of us know, if we’re really honest with ourselves, that that isn’t the way that a civil negotiation works. We all have beliefs of one sort or another that are not strictly rational. And as David Ropeik, author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts, recently told NPR about vaccinations, fear, or the perception of risk, is subjective. It’s a matter of how we feel about the facts we have, not just what the facts say.

So if our beliefs — and especially our most deeply held beliefs — are in some measure subjective, it does not seem unreasonable that it might take a deeply subjective, possibly irrational form of argument to change our minds.

This premise seems to be confirmed by some new research from political scientists Michael J. LaCour and Donald P. Green of UCLA. In this study that they published in Science in December, 2014, they tell us that contact with people is often as important as contact with ideas if we seek to change minds and hearts — that civil negotiation must be one part polite argument, and one part social interaction.

The idea itself is not exactly new. It is called the contact hypothesis, and it goes back to the 1950s. Social psychologists starting with Gordon W. Allport have asserted that direct personal contact is among the best ways to break down ingrained prejudices — to change people’s minds when their position is not fundamentally rational.

What is new about LeCour and Green’s study is some fine-grained experimental data that tells us that direct engagement with the objects of our prejudices can have a profound impact not just for us in the moment, but for our opinions weeks and months later, and for our friends and families, too.

In the course of their research, LeCour and Green sent canvassers to the homes of 972 voters. Some of those canvassers were gay and some were straight, and each group spoke with the voters about why they should support gay marriage. The result was that five days after the experiment, the gay and straight canvassers each had about the same impact in changing voters’ minds. But that increasingly as time went on, voters who had had a direct interaction with a gay canvasser were considerably more likely to retain a more permissive attitude toward gay marriage. And folks who had secondhand contact with the gay canvasser — friends and family of the voter contacted — were more likely to come around to that point of view as well.

The classical formulation of the contact hypothesis predicts this. It tells us — simply — that the contact has broken down the prejudice. But what’s innovative about Green and LeCour is that their data suggests that contact is most effective when it comes with a rational argument in tow. A group of voters who received a visit from a gay canvasser with a script about why one should recycle (the experiment’s control group) did not, by and large, change their opinion about gay marriage. Or at least not at the same rate.

Green and LeCour’s results, in short, were this: that active contact is capable of producing a cascade of enduring opinion change. That rational discussion of a given issue is important. And that contact with people who have different values is important. But that we are most able to listen beyond our preconceived notions when both of those factors come together.

Returning to civility, we can learn an important lesson from this. That is: when we sit down to speak with people with whom we disagree, we must address them not just as a collection of ideas, but as a complex human being. We must understand that neither our own beliefs nor theirs are completely rational, and that the social interaction itself, not just the the content of the conversation, are invaluable in attaining mutual understanding.

This is clear in the Institute’s expanded definition of civility. It’s about respect as a starting point for dialogue about differences. But this is also a strategic point. If your goal is to change people’s mind about whatever kind of big, divisive political issue, civility is not just window dressing. It is essential to the process.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot and Other Discourses of Civility

Do civil disobedience and public protest have a part to play in a civil political culture?

The question seems like a strange one following more than six months of highly visible, sometimes violent protests that began in August 2014 with the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and that were fueled by the subsequent decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who pulled the trigger.

The media certainly characterized the events following those incidents in incendiary, uncivil terms. Pennlive.com, the online branch of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s Patriot-News, ran a story in the days following Brown’s death comparing the outcry in Ferguson to the violent racial strife of the 1960s. The unrest, wrote reporter Christine Vendel, brings back memories for some longtime Harrisburg residents who remember the 1969 race riots in Allison Hill that claimed the life of an 18-year-old man.

The Washington Post did the same, quoting civil rights attorney Barbara Arnwine, who compared the protests in Ferguson to the 1965 Watts Riots, saying: We’re in a time warp. Watts was bad, but this is the worst thing I’ve seen.

It is no wonder why the media framed the events in these terms, with looting and vandalism cropping up alongside the peaceful protests, and images like this one of tear-gas saturated conflicts with riot police appearing at the fore.

Hands Up, Don't Shoot and Other Discourses of Civility

Ferguson, Day 6. By Loavesofbread, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And it is no wonder, with so many authoritative voices striking the same tone, that even a well-informed public might have come to see the Ferguson protests — and public protest in general — as an inherently uncivil facet of American political culture.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I asked Institute co-founder Cassandra Dahnke about the subject, and this is what she had to say:

I have been thinking for a long time about public demonstrations / civil disobedience and how all of that relates to civility. Some people think they are mutually exclusive. I do not. It is important for citizens to be able to exercise their right to assemble, and it is key to a healthy democracy that they do so. It is also a practice that is only enhanced when framed by civility.

There is no rule that says that public demonstrations — even demonstrations whose mantra is hands up, don’t shoot — must take on a tenor of violence and civil unrest. And there is every reason to think that they should (and can, and do) look more like this:

Hands Up, Don't Shoot and Other Discourses of Civility

“Community,” at MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment. By Adam D. Zolkover, CC-BY-SA 4.0

And this:

Hands Up, Don't Shoot and Other Discourses of Civility

“Justice, not Just Us,” at MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment, by Adam D. Zolkover, CC-BY-SA 4.0

On January 19, as part of an observance of Martin Luther King day, I attended a rally and march in Center City, Philadelphia that organizers dubbed the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment. Resistance may sound uncivil, but that was far from the tone of the event. Protesters called for improved public education, increased wages, and an end to police violence. And participants, at odds in other aspects of their politics and identities, stood arm in arm — sometimes literally — to make their voices heard.

Religious groups with divergent beliefs on fundamental theological points came together to call for more justice and more peace. They marched in solidarity with protesters bearing the no justice, no peace slogan on their banners, who marched next to groups calling for school reform, a fifteen dollar minimum wage, and simple declarations that I am human.

Hands Up, Don't Shoot and Other Discourses of Civility

“Black Lives Matter,” at MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment, by Adam D. Zolkover, CC-BY-SA 4.0

White folks marched side by side with people of color. There were signs in Chinese declaring that black lives matter. Folks representing labor unions carried signs saying that racism kills. And even the Granny Peace Brigade made an appearance at the march.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, police officials estimated the crowd at 3,000, while organizers said it was closer to 6,000. And according to that same report, the police, who maintained a heavy presence all day, reported no arrests.

Rounding the southwest corner of City Hall, about halfway through the march which would end outside the Liberty Bell, I witnessed one woman, perhaps in her fifties, take what looked like a bad fall. The protesters near her all came to her aid, and so too did the police who were shadowing us. It was the closest police officer who arrived most swiftly. And he, seemingly without suspicion or malice, helped her to her feet and made sure she was okay before continuing on his way.

A public protest, of course, is never a civil chat, held quietly indoors. It isn’t a negotiation between two parties who are looking for a middle ground. But those need not be the only models for what civil discourse looks like. And if, as the founders of the Institute assert, civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process, then civility was all over Philadelphia’s MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

Civility was present in the appearance of Mayor Michael Nutter at the rally before the event, the fact of which served as an acknowledgment that the protesters’ grievances were real, and deserved a reasonable response. It was present in the dozens of interest groups, who each appeared to raise awareness for their own cause, but who stood in solidarity with the causes of others. It was in the attitude of the crowd toward the police, who were clearly there for the protesters’ protection. And it was there in the attitude of the police toward the crowd, who clearly acknowledged their right to assemble.

And civility was there, especially, in the logic behind the protest. In a society that is all too ready to ignore the voices of the poor, and at a time in our history when — especially on Martin Luther King Day — we are all too ready to declare the Civil Rights Movement an article of our past, what is a public protest declaring that black lives matter and that poor lives matter but an attempt to claim and care for one’s identity? And under those same circumstances, what is the fact that it was done peacefully — often arm in arm and without a single arrest — but an attempt to do so without degrading someone else’s needs in the process?

To the eyes of many, public protests may not have the exterior appearance of civil discourse. But whatever the issue, if planned carefully and with adequate forethought, it is a venue in which civility can thrive.

Civility Linkblogging: Violence and the Value of Images

Civility Linkblogging

A Lynx, because Linkblogging

If honest and broadbased discourse about civility can be seen as an encouraging starting point for a change in pubic culture, then 2015 is off to a particularly encouraging start. This January has already seen articles written about civility as it relates to a wide range of topics including local government, protests against police brutality, partisan relations in Congress, and reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. And those subjects are just to name a few.

This is, of course, our first edition of Civility Linkblogging of the year. It is part of our ongoing effort highlight discourse about civility around the web. In the past, we have claimed that our articles come from as wide a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, and magazines from the United States and around the world. And this week confirms it. You’ll note, as you read, two firsts: a piece that comes out of the southern African nation of Zambia, and another that comes from a newspaper in Turkey.

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:

Civility in Politics
Posted at the Zambia Daily Nation, January 2, 2015

Conflict resolution is a matter that is taken very seriously in African culture It involves dialogue through proxies and peers. This is a value we should not lose even when we foreign media practitioners who may not understand the significance of Ubuntu.

That is why we very concerned by the growing shrill discourse which at times is downright uncouth and uncivilized…

If for no other reason, civility must be observed to safeguard the cordial political atmosphere in which we can debate and indeed exchange robust barbs. When words are spoken out of turn there is always a mutual obligation for contrition.

Social Media, Communication, and Civility
By Tom Clifford, posted at The Montgomery Advertiser, January 5, 2015

The author’s video of an impromptu “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protest generated a significantly above average amount of comments, with folks calling the protest everything from “inspiring” to an “idiotic and illegal waste of time.”

But here’s the thing. It provided a respectable and safe environment for people with widely divergent opinions to express themselves. To start a conversation.

And in a city like Montgomery, with its rich and complicated history, and where race relations continue to factor in to most every aspect of life, this can only be a healthy development.

City Program Designates 2015 as the Year of Civility
By James Fenton, posted at the Farmington Daily Times, January 6, 2015

Civility First, a program of the city’s Community Relations Commission, will celebrate a new era of kindness and respect in San Juan County at a public event at the Farmington Civic Center on Friday, Jan. 16.

Sprung from bimonthly discussions between Mayor Tommy Roberts and members of his minority issues roundtable, the program seeks to make Farmington a place where all people feel respected and receive quality treatment in area businesses, as well as in the public square.

13 Milliseconds to Civility
By Carolyn Lukensmeyer, posted at The Huffington Post, January 9, 2015

While Boehner’s words did not ring with wild optimism, the picture of him planting a kiss on Pelosi’s cheek told a different story. In the photo, Boehner clutches an oversized gavel in his left hand, while his right hand is looped firmly around Pelosi’s back. She has her right hand on his shoulder and a Mona Lisa type grin, eyes shut, as Boehner kisses her cheek.

Research last year out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the human brain can process an image when seen for just 13 milliseconds….

In short, the image of the Democratic and Republican leaders embracing can go a long way toward planting in the American public’s collective mind that there is, in fact, hope of compromise, civility and unity among the individuals trying to lead our nation forward. One quick gulp of that picture, which has been widely displayed on-line and on the front pages of newspapers, implants a sense of hope in this New Year that we can work civilly together.

Countering Blasphemy with Civility
By Mustafa Akyol, posted at the Hürriyet Daily News, January 10, 2015

we Muslims need to get to the bottom of the issue, which is how we shall understand Islamic law in our day and age. What is needed, in other words, is nothing short of a “reform.” But mind you; this is a reform with a small ‘r’ not a capital one, for the matter here is not challenging the authority of a central church, as Martin Luther did in the 16th century. The matter here is to how to renew the interpretation of the diverse traditions of Islam in the light of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and other human rights….

None of this means that Muslims have to be happy with the mockery of their faith. They just have to counter it with civility, rather than rage and violence. To see why, one of the things they can do is to read their Qur’an a bit more carefully.

Civility Linkblogging: Universities, and the Potential for Civility’s Abuse

Linkblogging

By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

This post is part of our ongoing effort to highlight discourse about civility around the web. Our articles for civility linkblogging come from a wide cross-section of blogs and newspapers, magazines and other websites, from the United States and abroad.

This week’s edition of the segment is devoted to some of the high-profile debate regarding civility that has taken place on and around university campuses in the month of September. In September, administrators at the University of California, Berkeley and Penn State University called for civil discourse from faculty, students, and alumni as the new semester got underway. But as several of the articles featured here pointed out, civility in this context is not without its dangers. As James Hanley of Ordinary Times writes, campus ‘free speech zones’ and civility codes

are directly aimed at civility, being put in place with the understandable purpose of trying to protect female and minority students from offensive language. But their actual speech impact often goes beyond that, and even that goal can run afoul of the First Amendment.

This particular thread of debate becomes heated at times, and carries with it some strong language. But for folks who are interested in the range of possibilities for how calls for civil discourse might impact a community, this thread of debate is an invaluable read.

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:

From the Free Speech Movement to the Reign of Civility
By Nicholas Dirks, U.C. Berkeley Chancellor, posted at Reclaim UC, September 5, 2014

For free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated. Yet this is easier said than done, for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled. As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation. This fall, like every fall, there will be no shortage of issues to animate and engage us all. Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression, between openness of thought and the requirements and disciplines of academic knowledge, will be tested anew.

Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility. Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin – the coin of open, democratic society.

A Message from the Leadership at Penn State
Posted at Penn State News, September 5, 2014

The question is whether a lack of civility in discussing these issues will create a deeper divide, one that alters the remarkable bond that exists between all those who are a part of the Penn State community. Consider just a few examples that you may have also come across – the alumnus who says he lost his best friend over his opinion of the Freeh report; the alumni trustee candidate that faced dozens of unkind comments; the long time donor of time and treasure who no longer feels welcome.

Debate and disagreement are critical constructs in the role of universities in testing ideas and promoting progress on complex issues. But, the leaders of your University at every level, from the administration, faculty, staff and students, are unanimous in deploring the erosion of civility associated with our discourse.

Penn State Fans Torn Regarding ‘Civility’ Email
Posted by Julia Hatmaker at Penn Live. September 6, 2014

Friendly – that was the best way to describe the scene at the tailgates for the Penn State vs. Akron football game at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 6.

It was a far cry from the “incivility” that the members of the Penn State community were accused of in a letter from the university’s leadership on Sept 5, or what Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers has seen.

“Within our own University, we have seen disagreements that have been uncivil, and comments that are downright rude on some of the issues we have faced,” wrote Powers in a statement to PennLive.

When the letter was brought up at the tailgates, feelings were mixed. Some felt the plea for civility regarding feelings concerning the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case and the firing of Joe Paterno was valid.

Universities Need Less Civility and More ‘Shit-Kicking’
Posted by Dennis Hayes at Spiked, September 11, 2014

Courtesy is all well and good, but it is a dangerous and censorious etiquette that is being promoted by Dirks and others. Towards the end of chapter two of On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued against those who warned against ‘vituperative’ speech. Such strictures are the weapons of the powerful, he said:

‘With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation.’

One way of silencing free speech is not to attack what is said but to attack the tone, attitude or demeanour of the speaker. It is a convenient way of telling people to ‘shut up.’

Academic Freedom — Pleas for Civility Meet Cynicism
Posted by Peter Schmidt at University World News, September 12, 2014

Faculty members appear to have become more defensive of their speech rights as a result of several recent high profile battles around the nation over the boundaries of academic freedom.

Going into the summer, college administrations had been struggling to adjust to changes in communication brought about by social media, with their capacity to make controversial speech go viral and to amplify outside pressure on institutions to rein in faculty members whose statements give offense.

Then, in recent months, the military conflict in Israel and Gaza greatly intensified debates in academe over Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, prompting scholars on both sides of the issue to use such heated rhetoric they tested administrators’ willingness to continue supporting unfettered debate.

Free Speech Does Not Require Civility
Posted by James Hanley at Ordinary Times, September 12, 2014

There are other reasons I find the UC Chancellor’s letter disturbing, even if it was just badly written and did not convey his intended message.

First, no leader likes conflict within her/his organization. University chancellors have a demanding enough job without having to deal with students screaming at each other, making each other emotionally distraught, having protests that result in certain segments of the community expressing their outrage at the institution for allowing, and so on. A university chancellor, whatever their personal beliefs in freedom of speech, have an understandable incentive to want a calm, peaceful, civil campus.

Second, despite the famous free speech protests at Berkeley in the ’60s, we have now had several decades of attempts by universities to constrain speech through “speech codes.” The codes are directly aimed at civility, being put in place with the understandable purpose of trying to protect female and minority students from offensive language. But their actual speech impact often goes beyond that, and even that goal can run afoul of the First Amendment (while a public organization has a duty to prevent a hostile workplace, isolated incidents sexist or racist comments do not, as a matter of constitutional law (as it is today) rise to that level).

Civility Linkblogging: Marriage Equality, Street Harassment, and Anger Management

Linkblogging

By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

This post is part of our ongoing effort to highlight discourse about civility around the web. Our articles for civility linkblogging come from a wide cross-section of blogs and newspapers, magazines and other websites, from the United States and abroad.

Notable among this week’s articles is one eloquent call for civility in debates over marriage equality, and a creative response by three Philadelphia women to the problem of harassment on the street and elsewhere. In the former, Indianapolis Star columnist Erika Smith reminds us that that not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is a religious zealot. And not everyone who supports same-sex marriage is a rainbow-clad heathen. While in the latter, Rochelle Keyhan, Erin Filson, and Anna Kegler explain the impetus and impact of their groups, Hollaback Philly and Geeks for CONsent.

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:

Being Agreeable Is an Essential Trait
Posted by Orlaine I. Gabert at Greenbaypressgazette.com, August 12, 2014

Probably there are a good number of issues, concerns, likes, activities that are passionate for the person speaking, but are of little importance to you. In those instances you can listen attentively and thank the person for sharing.

Other times you are affected or passionate about the subject. After you have listened, you share your views respectfully without demeaning the person or their ideas. It may be possible to find some consensus, or you can both respect that each of you have a different view.

Why So Mad? Civility Experts Weigh In
Posted by Jennifer Brett at AccessAtlanta.com, August 15, 2014

“So much of our interaction takes place digitally now. When people don’t handle conflict well, they will often hide behind email. It’s so much easier to say mean things when you’re no longer looking someone in the eye.”

Eye-to-eye can be a more effective forum for reaching compromise than screen-to-screen, she said.

“Try to see the situation through the eyes of the other person,” she advised. “Realize they’re being mean and angry because they’re trying to protect something. There’s a reason they’re being so emotional. Have empathy that the person feels threatened.”

Flunking the Rules of Civility
Posted by Katie Coombs at the Reno Gazette-Journal, August 20, 2014

In the past 20 years, the emphasis in the schools, and now at home, has been on self-esteem and self-worth, and the value of learning to focus on others has slipped away. Teachers and parents alike are tip-toeing around kids and their unruly behaviors so that they don’t feel shamed by manners and discipline. Is it working? If we look around, we see spoiled disrespectful brats in most restaurants, schools and on athletic teams. These kids wouldn’t lift a finger to help their parents without arguing about it first or proclaiming how unfair it is to have to help support the daily grind of operating a house. Parents are exhausted and overwhelmed by these children and know they have created monsters, but don’t know what to do. If that is your household, then I would suggest establishing the rules of civility in your home.

Let’s Practice Civility in Debate over Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by Erika D. Smith at IndyStar.com, August 26, 2014

I’m asking you to remember that not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is a religious zealot. And not everyone who supports same-sex marriage is a rainbow-clad heathen.

There are people in the middle. In fact, a lot of people are in the middle on this issue. People who don’t know what to think. The problem is we can’t hear them over the roar of rhetoric.

So I’m asking for civility — maybe even open-mindedness.

Three Philly Women Seek Civility on the Street and Equality in the World of Geekdom
Posted by Howard Gensler at Philly.com, August 28, 2014

On the street, the women say, one never knows when a simple catcall might lead to violence, or when relentless harassment could turn what might have been meant as an innocent remark into the final straw of aggravation.

For many women, walking around in public can be a nonstop series of lip smacks, ass pinches, vile come-ons and more.

“For some guys it’s just a catcall,” Keyhan said. “But they don’t realize that the catcall is just a prelude to all the other awful things that can happen in a public space. . . . If all it was was just, ‘Hey sexy, hey baby,’ I would not spend all my free time on this. But when you never know what’s going to come next, that’s the problem.”

Support Your Elected Officials, Attend a Government Meeting

Anita Stech is an Institute member and the owner of Cut Loose Creations, a company that turns old tee shirts into stylish clothes and accessories.  In 2011, she participated in the Institute’s Civility Workshop held in Duluth, MN.  And as a member of the Pilgrim Congregational Church Social Justice Ministry, she has worked with the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation’s “Speak Your Peace” initiative to create “Civility Certified” community forums and debates.

Every once in a while I cross paths with a woman I supported in a recent local election. Now an elected local official, she tells me how much work there is to the job. For every government meeting, council or committee, she receives and reads pages and pages of background material. She gets multiple contacts each day from constituents and those wishing to influence her thoughts and votes on various issues. She researches issues and city actions. We discuss how much more there is to serving in office than running to serve, and I thank her for her work.

The election cycles never seem to end. The constant ads and solicitations unfortunately draw attention to the contests rather than the work our elected officials have been selected to do. Even with a four year term, thinking of how to conduct and fund the next election is always in the back of an official’s mind.

There have been some pretty harsh attacks on our local officials lately. School board meetings have drawn a crowd of people who have not been shy in vocally criticizing the members, personal attacks and threats included; a movement is afoot to recall a city councilor. Even civility itself, when under discussion at a school board meeting, was attacked as a “sham” and a “joke” by a sitting school board member.

This may be “newsworthy” stuff, but it draws attention from the work of governing. And governing is what is important.

So here is a thought for those of us who vote: attend a local government meeting – city council, school board, or county commission.

Attend the government meeting not because you want something from the councilors, board members, or commissioners, but to simply show support for the work we as a community have asked them to do.

And attend the meetings to learn more about how things work. Moving an idea from your head to something a city, county, or school board can consider takes a lot of work. Ask staff how a proposed idea might move through the system.

Any elected official knows that part of the job is to listen to everyone – the noisy ones included. But it might be nice to be reminded every once in a while that there are lots of others who are interested in the work of governing, and who appreciate those who work so hard to be part of a governing body that fixes streets, educates students and takes care of those in need.

Be that reminder. Attend a government meeting.

Note: to learn the time and location of government meetings in your area, check the “Government” section in your telephone book, or search the web for the town, county, or school board name. For example: “Duluth Minnesota City Council”.

Krugman, Ryan, and Civil Debate

Clive Cook, over at Bloomberg View, did a particularly good job last week of articulating one of the central dilemmas that face many of us who are interested in civility within the landscape of our highly charged political present. His article, “Krugman’s Wrong: Civility Isn’t Stupid,” looks at one of the biggest players and one of the most common tropes in progressive politics in the United States; but his point is well made, and equally applicable among conservatives.

The dilemma is this: is it ever acceptable to take a break from civility and launch an ad hominem attack on a political opponent? Especially when it is apparent, from your perspective, that that opponent is acting in bad faith?

Cook (rightly, we think) says that it is not. And though Cook defends economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman against critics who accuse Krugman of calling Representative Paul Ryan stupid (he didn’t), he is rightly critical of Krugman’s tendency, as he puts it, to become too easily exasperated … and much too quick to see bad faith (mostly on the opposing side, rarely on his own).

All of this stems from a recent column, “Knowledge Isn’t Power,” and a blog post that Krugman made as a follow-up called “Con Men Aren’t Stupid.” In the latter, he dismisses civility, saying that he has documented [Paul] Ryan’s many cons very extensively, showing in particular that his budgets were sold on false pretenses. And that if it is his job to inform readers about what’s going on, then the attempt to sell right-wing goals under false pretenses is an important part of the story.

Cook’s point in his response at Bloomberg View is that while that may be true in a limited way, it is also profoundly counterproductive. He writes:

The problem with [Krugman’s] view on civility is that without a minimum of mutual respect, debate degenerates into a useless squabble, which is what U.S. politics has become. In a functioning democracy, deals have to be struck among groups with different views. Differences of opinion shouldn’t be suppressed, but if mutual disgust rises to the point where negotiation is no longer possible, everybody loses.

And he writes that if you begin from a position of contempt for your political opponent, you don’t expect to learn anything from him, and you lose your ear for finding what’s valuable in the arguments of people you disagree with.

Both are important points. Both characterize a regular feature in Krugman’s popular writing that undercuts analyses that are otherwise often well-conceived. And both offer a valuable lesson to conservative pundits, too, where ad hominem attacks — of the President, of Democratic leaders, and of media figures including Krugman himself — too often find enthusiastic voice.

There is a lesson to be learned in this: that though we may believe, under certain circumstances, that a break with civility is justified, more often, as Cook says, it’s mere self-indulgence. Ad hominem attacks are an exercise in letting off steam, or of riling up one’s own supporters. But they do not change minds. And they bring us no closer to the kind of productive (if occasionally contentious) debate that leads to compromise and ultimately to positive legislative outcomes.