Institute’s Civility Definition in The Grand Forks Herald

Using the Institute’s language of civility, an opinion piece this week at The Grand Forks Herald takes on the ongoing mascot controversy at the University of North Dakota.

In 2012, the North Dakota Board of Higher Education ordered the university to replace its former nickname and mascot – The Fighting Sioux – with an alternative that conforms to NCAA rules prohibiting the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery in their intercollegiate athletic programs.

As per the Board of Higher Education’s directive, the university has been without a mascot for three years. And now in 2015, as the university endeavors to choose a new mascot, the process has been fraught.

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The furor, writes Korrie Wenzel, author of the article in question, recently reached its zenith, flamed by news that the nickname committee had decided to move forward with several nickname choices. It has suggested the Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders and Sundogs. In the wake of a backlash, the committee reversed those recommendations. And both the recommendations and the reversal, Wenzel writes, make us realize this issue may become more venomous in the coming weeks and months.

Facebook comments on one recent article about the debate had to be removed due to profanity or general name-calling. Several comments resorted to insulting the writer. And according to Wenzel, one reader canceled his Herald subscription, even though an opinion column representing the other point of view appeared on the same page.

The solution, writes Korrie Wenzel, lies in civility. In his article, he includes the Institute’s definition of the concept. That:

Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.

And then he quotes the Institute’s explanation of the definition at length:

Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard and nobody’s is ignored.

Wenzel writes that civility in this sense is a sound concept in the context of the mascot controversy, and that it’s particularly important to to remember this as we hear the nasty comments that arise.

He laments the idea that North Dakotans are airing their dirty laundry in public, and tarnishing their reputation for being North Dakota Nice.

And he says that while vigorous debate is important – while it is key to coming to a sound conclusion on the mascot issue – it must be done respectfully. We urge civility and respect, writes Korrie Wenzel. We urge some sense of decorum. We can be so much better than this.

Civility and Privileged Distress

Civility and Privileged DistressKnow thyself, reads the ancient Greek aphorism. And in light of our recent post about the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, that aphorism seems particularly relevant. Part of civility – undoubtedly – is about listening to and taking seriously the positions of people with whom we disagree. If the purpose of a discussion is to solve problems rather than score points, we all win. But part of civility, too, is about self-examination. It’s about understanding our motivations and our position in society. If we don’t know where we are coming from and why it is we want what we want, even the most civil negotiation will be of limited use.

So with that in mind, I’d like to point you all to a 2012 blog post by Doug Muder of The Weekly Sift. The post is a little old, and it definitely comes from one particular position along the ideological spectrum of American politics. But it introduces an important concept, privileged distress, that is key for folks who are interested in civility to understand.

To explain privileged distress, Muder points us at the film Pleasantville. In the film, he writes, George Parker is a TV father and the patriarch of a perfect fifties family. He returns from work at night to a smiling wife, adorable children, and dinner on the table. And when one day that doesn’t happen, he is confused, and sad, and feels that the universe has gone awry. Muder writes:

I’m not bringing this up just to discuss old movies. As the culture evolves, people who benefited from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.

This is the essence of privileged distress. George Parker is the biggest player in his patriarchal universe. Whether he knows it or not, he benefits from immense privilege. And on the day that patriarchy – at least as he understands it – goes away, he feels that loss acutely. The world changes around him. His position relative to his family changes. And it’s a change that is legitimately scary – one about which he is right to be concerned.

The thing is, though, that the reason it’s all so scary is that what has come before the change – the patriarchy – doesn’t read to George Parker as privilege. It just reads as normal, as the thing he’s known his whole life. So when dinner isn’t on the table when he returns home from work, and when he isn’t greeted by his wife and children at the door, he perceives this as injustice. Injustice is being done to George Parker in that he had been at the top of the social food chain, and now he must contend with being merely an equal.

As Doug Muder says, the distress of the George Parkers of the world is real. It’s painful, and we need to listen to it and acknowledge it.

But even as we accept the reality of George’s privileged-white-male distress, we need to hold on to the understanding that the less privileged citizens of Pleasantville are distressed in an entirely different way…. George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

This is where we return to the idea of self-knowledge as a key component of civility. As we interact with the people around us, we need to understand the power gradients in which we exist. We need to figure out to what degree, when we feel slighted, we are like George Parker who just wants his dinner. And we need to figure out to what degree we are like Betty who has been living in some sense as a servant for most of her adult life.

Both positions are legitimate. In both cases, we have something real for which to negotiate. But both positions don’t necessarily have equal import. And knowing how much ground we have to give as we advocate for our identity needs and beliefs – knowing the point at which our needs start to degrade someone else’s – depends on understanding our own privilege. If we’re already George Parker in a given situation, we may have a great deal more leeway to make concessions than if we’re Betty.

Returning to what I wrote the other week about the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, this is key to the idea of negotiating by listening. I wrote in that post that it’s time for uncivil progressives to take a break from sneering at religious freedom arguments; and that it’s time for uncivil social conservatives to stop dismissing claims from same sex couples that what they want is only what everybody else already has. Self knowledge and an understanding of this concept of privileged distress is a good way to do that. All sides at the negotiating table need to understand where their privilege lies, and how the gradients of social power run.

Confronting those hard truths means asking ourselves whether my religious freedom is more important than your marriage. It means asking ourselves whether your pain at a changing social landscape can be legitimate, and not just a selfish affront to my impending happiness. And it means asking ourselves whether – if we can give up on the idea of our own privilege – our needs and beliefs are really in conflict at all.

There’s no definite answer to any of these things. But this is one means by which we can approach a discussion of the marriage equality ruling that has the potential to yield more than just hurt feelings. Being honest with ourselves is how we can be honest about our needs as we interact with others. And doing that gives us the best chance to come away from a discussion with a sense that we’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

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.

Marriage Equality, Suspicion, and Insular Thinking

A fair amount of uncivil discourse has passed through the American public sphere since the end of June when, in their decision on Obergefell vs Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.

Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, almost immediately released a non-binding legal opinion which, according to Robert Garrett of The Dallas Morning News, stated that clerks could refuse on First Amendment grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because, as he says, of their religious objections. Paxton added in a press release that there are numerous lawyers who stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and that his office, too, stands in defense of their rights.

And Ken Paxton is not alone. In Tennessee, the beginning of July saw the entire staff of the county clerk’s office of Decatur County resign on religious grounds. In Nebraska, Sioux County clerk Michelle Zimmerman said that she will deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples because her religious beliefs prevent her from complying with the law. And in Kentucky, county clerk Casey Davis has called on the state legislature to pass a new law allowing couples to purchase marriage licenses online, so as not to have to violate his religious beliefs by issuing the licenses himself.

These cases in themselves are not inherently uncivil. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in the United States, and it certainly seems worth having a frank conversation about how to implement this change in the interpretation of the law while respecting, to the greatest degree possible, everybody’s interests.

But in practice, these cases and the discourse that surrounds them are a perfect example of the kind of incivility that is born of a breakdown of communication. All parties are so busy talking to their ideological in-group, and so busy indulging their ideological in-group’s preconceived notions, that nobody can hear the other side speak.

And so when social conservatives over the past several weeks have stood up for religious freedom, too often pro-gay marriage factions have jumped to the least generous possible conclusions. And conservatives have jumped to that same ungenerous place when progressives have celebrated what seems very much like an affirmation of their identity, needs and beliefs.

To see the kind of vitriol this produces, one needs only look at the blanket accusations of bigotry bandied about on Twitter by folks who support the Obergefell ruling.

"Bigot homophobe Texas Attourney General @KenPaxtonTX looks like he might have some personal problems."

"Bigot Brownback Issues Order to Protect Religious Liberty After SCOTUS Ruling"

"Religious liberty does not include being a bigot! New battle for same sex marriage erupts in Texas."

"My hatred of people using religion as their reasoning for being against same-sex marriage is at an all-time high. YOU'RE A BIGOT."

And one needs only look at the kinds of suspicious discourses bandied about by Obergefell opponents. According to The Daily Caller, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called the Supreme Court completely out of control, and said that the Obergefell decision amounted to an affront to God, country, and political affiliation. Hillary Clinton and The Left will now mount an all-out assault on Religious Freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment, Jindal opined.

While in his dissent on the case (pdf), Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito falls into the slippery slope fallacy, writing that the ruling will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy, and that those who cling to old beliefs will be relegated to whispering their thoughts in the recesses of their own homes for fear of public persecution.

The sad part about it is that each side seems to be proving the other right. Alito worries that opponents of gay marriage risk being labeled as bigots for their views, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen on Twitter. While progressives fear that resistance to the Supreme Court’s ruling is born of narrow-mindedness, and we’ve seen plenty of that, too. When former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says that legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to the “criminalization of Christianity,” and that the country “must resist and reject judicial tyranny,” what else should supporters of marriage equality think?

A solution to this – if in fact we collectively want one – exists in reconsidering the purpose of speech. Is the goal of public discourse merely political in the lowest sense of the word? Is it meant to score points, secure donors, and collect votes with the hope of getting elected the next time around? If so – if we want only to talk to the people who already agree with us – then the status quo works fine.

But if Ken Paxton and county clerks around the country are sincere in their concerns, and if a significant portion of the citizenry of the United States feels that their religious freedom is being trampled on by the Obergefell ruling, then speech might have to mean something broader: it might have to mean being quiet and listening, too.

For those of us who work on civility, the Institute’s definition of the term – that is, claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process – is almost a mantra: words repeated by rote, filled as much with ritual meaning as with relevant content.

But the Institute’s definition is certainly relevant here.

It’s time for uncivil progressives to take a break from sneering at social conservatives who look at the Bible, or the weight of history, and decide that same sex marriage really has no precedent. And it’s time for uncivil social conservatives to stop dismissing claims from same sex couples that what they want is only what everybody else already has. If we read beyond the insularity and fear, what both sides are expressing is that they want to have their identity, needs, and beliefs respected and protected by law. And through civil discussion – the sort of discussion where every party comes to the table honest about its desires and motivations – a solution where all sides can get what they want is far from beyond the realm of what’s possible.

Civility Linkblogging: Violence, Economists, and Jack Lew

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 centers around issues of civility in how we respond to violence. In addition to a piece about civil responses to June’s church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, we include a discussion about civility in activism responding to the Tamir Rice police shooting in Cleveland, Ohio. And we include a piece about balancing one’s own needs and beliefs with the needs and beliefs of others when it comes to open carry gun laws.

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:

Man With Rifle Scares at Airport: How Important Is Civility to Open-Carry?
Posted by Patrik Jonsson at The Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2015

Indeed, as Texas is set to become the largest state to allow open carry, the evolution of the practice encompasses not just gun rights, but shifting notions around self-defense and even growing insecurities for many blue-collar, white men in America, some of whom see gun carry as central to “duty, relevance, even dignity,” as Jennifer Carlson, a gun rights scholar, writes in the Los Angeles Times.

“Yes, gun owners can do this, and maybe it does some good by raising awareness that this is the law,” says Brian Anse Patrick, a University of Toledo communications professor and author of the upcoming book “PropaGUNda.” “But there’s still this funny area around etiquette and frightening people” that draws a line between “Second Amendment ambassadors and Second Amendment exhibitionists.”

In Peaceful Protests over Police Verdict, Cleveland Has Just Seen Values in Action
Posted by Patricia Frost-Books, Kim Richards, and Ratanjit S. Sondhe at Cleveland.com, June 7, 2015

Just after Tamir Rice’s death, some leaders sought to squelch the public dialogue, pushing it behind closed doors or within favored institutions with specific agendas. Thoughtful people pushed back on this idea. It never happened.

Instead, there were listening tours, community meetings, congregational meetings, street meetings and school meetings. Rage was vented. Pastors and organizations recommended changes to the mayor and the U.S. attorney. Gov. John Kasich created a diverse task force on police conduct. Police allowed demonstrators to yell at them. They responded calmly — civilly. Dialogue ensued. It was messy at times, but people were heard….

How we each strive to be a part of that solution is key. Are we a community of silos and self-interest that ignores our oneness? Or do we become a community of values, one that models kindness, caring and respect and enables success?

Don’t Squander Opportunities for Real Debate by Heckling
Posted by Elihu D. Stone at The Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2015

It is uncomfortable being booed off of a stage for merely voicing an opinion or articulating an idea. It can even be uncomfortable to watch someone else get booed off a stage. All other things being equal, common decency and decorum would seem to demand that anyone invited to speak at a diplomatic conference who politely voices a democratically elected administration’s policy deserves at least respectful silence while speaking.

However, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was not accorded that courtesy this week at the annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference – and that has some people feeling very uncomfortable.

Civility Breaks Out Among Econ Wonks
Posted by Noah Smith at Bloomberg View, June 19, 2015

I’ve started to notice a funny thing in the last two years, in the blogosphere and on Twitter. There is a lot more agreement than before, and the discourse on economic issues is a lot less poisonous.

This will come as a surprise to people who follow Twitter and blogs. These have been the years of Ferguson and Eric Garner, of GamerGate, of the Rolling Stone rape story. The cultural battles around race, gender and identity rage unabated, and the flames are fanned by vicious anonymous provocateurs.

But in the economics and policy world, the winds have begun to shift. A new atmosphere of comity, patience and rationalism is prevailing, and it’s breaking down barriers between liberals and conservatives, interventionists and free-marketers.

Civil Behavior Abounds in Response to Tragedy
Posted by Carolyn Lukensmeyer at The Huffington Post, June 22, 2015

The tragedy last week in Charleston, S.C., in which nine people were murdered, has evoked a local, state and national response bathed in civility. In fact, what we have witnessed since the shooting on June 16, sets an example for the nation of the hope and promise that can come from collective demonstrations of civil behavior….

Just days after the shooting, the families of the nine individuals who were murdered offered up a vital lesson for the nation on the power of civility. Roof appeared on screen at the bond hearing and, one-by- one, family members spoke directly to him on screen, forgiving him for what he did. To a person, these individuals, who spoke from places within of deep pain, abounding grief, offered prayers for Roof’s soul and forgiveness for what he did.

Four Logical Fallacies That Can Undermine Civility

Most of us, if we think of logical fallacies at all, remember them as some obscure concept from a years-old college rhetoric class, or as a list of stern don’ts given to us by a finger-wagging high-school English teacher bent on instilling in us the ‘right’ way to write an essay. Avoid these things, perhaps someone once threatened, or your grades will surely suffer.

But the thing is that logical fallacies are not actually errors in writing. They aren’t like bad grammar or unclear prose. They are errors in thinking – missteps in making an argument that lead us down the wrong path and cause us to draw bad conclusions.

Four Logical Fallacies That Can Undermine Civility

According to one definition, a logical fallacy occurs in an argument when the premises fail to logically support the conclusion. According to another, they are clearly defined error[s] in reasoning used to support or refute an argument, excluding simple unintended mistakes.

So what, you may ask, do logical fallacies have to do with civility? If you take as your premise (as we here at the Institute do) that civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process, then civility is in a sense a negotiation. You argue for what you need. I argue for what I need. And we meet somewhere in the middle – where neither of us gets everything we want, perhaps, but everybody gets something and all of us get respect.

To get trapped in a logical fallacy is to undermine that kind of civility. When we make bad arguments about why we want what we want, or when we make bad assumptions about why other members of our community want something different, we run the risk of disrespecting the other people with whom we are in dialog. We run the risk of dismissing others’ needs out of hand – or of overvaluing our own. And in doing so, we go from negotiation to hostage-taking. And all the civility runs out of the room.

So here below are four key logical fallacies to look out for. All of them are pernicious. All of them can undermine civility. And all of them (I say, and hope you don’t think I’m wagging my finger) should best be avoided.

Ad Hominem: This is the fallacy of attacking the author of an argument rather than the positions that they hold. It is probably the most common fallacy in American politics, and it is certainly the most pernicious. In 2008, for example, when a woman at a John McCain campaign event in Minnesota yelled out to the candidate that Obama is an Arab, that was an ad hominem attack. She meant it as an insult to Obama’s person, attacking him rather than the positions he stood for.

Ad hominem attacks undermine civility by making an argument personal. They suggest that because of who a person is (or who we perceive them to be), their positions don’t count and their voices don’t deserve to be heard. And by doing that, ad hominem attacks shut down communication.

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc: This is a fancy Latin name for a simple fallacy – the misconception that just because one event follows another, that first event is the cause of the second. It is the fallacy that tells us that because I touched a toad then got a wart, the toad must have caused the wart. Or it is the fallacy that tells us that just because there was a drop in crime when the state of Connecticut passed tougher gun laws in 2013, the gun laws caused the drop in crime. It’s possible that it is true, but without data to back it up, it’s simply bad reasoning.

The problem with this fallacy in terms of civility is that it can easily put us in the realm of misleading arguments. Should I support gun control based on a precedent that is no precedent at all? At best, post hoc, ergo propter hoc arguments undermine their proponents’ credibility. At worst, they are a convenient way to lie with data.

Hasty Generalization: This is the fallacy of jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence. It is a matter of taking one or two instances of something and turning them into a trend. For example, if – just based on Rachel Dolezal – we argued that white people across the United States are trying to blur racial lines, or that they are regularly posing as black to gain some perceived advantage, that would be a hasty generalization fallacy. To see the error one needs only ask, as Jon Stewart asked: if being black is such a sweet deal, why are millions of white people ignoring such a sweet opportunity? The answer is because it is not in fact a trend.

The hasty generalization fallacy undermines civility because it leads us to draw poor conclusions about our own needs. It leads us to see problems where none necessarily exist. And by essentially crying wolf, we undermine our negotiating credibility.

Slippery Slope: This is the fallacy of assuming that just because we have taken one step down a given path, we are inextricably tied to that path. It is the alarmist fallacy that we see almost inevitably when a television talking head tells us that we’re doomed (doomed!). It is the fallacy, for example, that led some progressives to conclude in 2001 that just because the USA PATRIOT Act curtailed some civil liberties under some certain circumstances, the United States had undoubtedly boarded a slow train to fascism. The fact is that there is a wide gulf between even expanding surveillance programs and mid-twentieth century style totalitarian government. And taking just that first step does not necessarily mean we take the last.

Slippery slope arguments undermine civility specifically because of their alarmism. They tend to be born of fear, not due consideration. And like with the ad hominem attack, arguments from fear cut off communication rather than encouraging it.

The examples of logical fallacies here are perhaps a little heavy handed. If you look at the tenor of our public discourse, you’ll find these four – and probably many more – all over the place, and often lurking quietly and undetected. Beware. Logical fallacies can offer the comfortable illusion of a sound argument without any of its substance. And if our twin goals are civic engagement and mutual respect, that is a dangerous illusion indeed.

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.

The (In)Civility of Some Arizona Churches

This is a curious story about civility – or the lack thereof – among the faithful. Apparently, in Fountain Hills, Arizona, eight area churches are collaborating this May on a campaign that they call “Progressive” Christianity: Fact or Fiction, which targets The Fountains United Methodist Church and its pastor, David Felton, who is the author of the bestselling book, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.

According to the Fox affiliate in Phoenix, The Fountains is the only progressive church in the area. And it is geared, as Pastor Felton says, toward letting people know that there’s a choice out there, they don’t have to deny science, they don’t have to hate their gay neighbor, they don’t have to read and take the bible in a way that causes them to abandon their rational mind.

The pastors of the eight collaborating churches – Rick Ponzo, Don Lawrence, Rod Warembourg, Tony Pierce, Todd Forrest, Bill Good, Steve Bergeson, and Tom Daly – wrote in an op-ed piece in the Fountain Hills Times on May 13 that they will present a series of sermons, the objective of which is to answer three primary questions:

  1. What is the difference between “Progressive” Christianity and Biblical Christianity?
  2. Does that difference really matter in a relativistic age?
  3. How can a Christian decipher what he or she should believe?

In the op-ed, they couch the sermon series as an exercise in promoting ecumenical cooperation and civility:

Unity among churches is a wonderful thing when the truths at stake are greater than the differences between us. By teaming up to stand for the essential truths that we embrace, eight pastors and their churches are making a key statement: Truth matters to us.

But as Daniel Schultz of the USC Annenberg School’s Religion Dispatches blog writes, the whole thing is fundamentally divisive. It airs the enmity between liberal and conservative Christians. It is a further sign of the same increasing polarization along ideological lines that infects American political culture. And the net effect, writes Schultz, is roughly analogous to when campaign ads go negative: the base is kept strong and in line, but the majority of people say “to hell with the both of you, I’m staying home.”

For our purposes, though, what’s even more interesting here is that it’s not just the “Progressive” Christianity: Fact or Fiction campaign itself that betrays this breakdown in civility. Though a group of eight conservative churches teaming up to discredit a lone progressive church has an odor of bullying about it, progressive pastor David Felton’s own words are hardly innocuous. In his response to Fox’s Phoenix affiliate, his characterization of other Christians as irrational science deniers and homophobes is essentializing, and demeaning, and certainly does no justice to the nuance of opinion of the folks who sit across the aisle from him.

What’s going on here seems to be a kind of breakdown of empathy that’s caused by a failure of imagination on both sides.

In his Beyond Vietnam speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said that the meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence is that it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. It helps us to see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and to know that those whom we call the opposition are in fact brothers and sisters in another guise.

And that is what’s missing here. In their public statements, the churches promoting “Progressive” Christianity: Fact or Fiction – and also the church being targeted being targeted by the campaign – seem unable to see themselves from their adversaries’ point of view. Adherence to ideology, and adherence to an essentializing understanding of who the other side is, have left them blind to the weaknesses in their own positions. And so they are able to claim and care for their own needs, but they are unable to do so while respecting the needs of others.

From the outside, this seems like a classic case of extreme measures cutting off lines of communications between parties just when a set of civil conversations is needed the most.