Grassroot Heroes

At the Institute for Civility in Government we are all about building civility everywhere – in homes, local communities, businesses, schools, and government at all levels.  And it is important to build civility in ALL of the communities in which we are a part – not just one or two, but rather across the board.  Thankfully there are many ways we can all do just that!    

Building strong communities and fostering deep civility norms go hand in hand.  And it requires constant attention and care.  A greater sense of civility builds a stronger sense of community, and vice versa. 

Not every conversation has to be controversial.  Not very issue/situation has to be fraught with conflict.  Often it is our daily interactions – the respect and the kindness we show – that allow for a deeper respect and civility when things become challenging. 

The Duluth Superior Community Foundation has a wonderful program that underscores this truth.  Speak Your Peace was originally developed and then expanded through the support and work of community members who chose not to take civility for granted in their towns.  People who chose to get involved, and not sit on the sidelines.  One of them is Anita Stech, who is a member of the Institute for Civility in Government as well.  She is insightful, proactive, and has been tireless in her efforts.  She does not wait for other people to make things happen.  She, and others like her, are all too often unsung and go with little thanks or recognition.  They are our civility heroes, and we need more of them.

In response to the pandemic, these people have worked through the foundation to turn words of wisdom into an opportunity for community members to stay connected, learn from one another, and sow those seeds of care that are so important.  Tune into their Speak Your Peace Listening Sessions and you will hear truths that will ring true for people not just in Duluth and Superior, but for people in similar situations in across the country.  Listen, learn, and consider how you can help build civility where you live – in all of the communities of which you are a part.

Another fresh start….

              Regardless of which political party wins, every inauguration brings with it new hope, new possibilities, and renewed calls for unity and civility, along with a dose of skepticism and displeasure from those among the losing party.  The proportion of hope to skepticism and/or outright resentment may vary from administration to administration, but these are the realities of the dynamic that is ours in the United States.

              While the calls for unity stretch back decades, the calls for civility have grown louder in the last twenty years or so.  When the Institute was first launched in 1998, no one else was talking about civility at the grassroots level.  It was not on anyone’s radar.  There was little understanding, appreciation, or awareness of what a critical element it is to our lives in community or to the functioning of a healthy democracy.  Many simply took for granted that civility would always be a prevalent value in our society.

              As the years have gone by and civility has steadily eroded at all levels of society, concern has grown.  Other organizations besides our own have popped up all over the country.  From local initiatives to national ones, people have sought to prop up this failing element and renew its application virtually everywhere – from homes, to schools, businesses, sports, government and beyond.

              Even as the calls for civility have grown louder, so has the pushback to those calls.  Many arguments and discussions have played out in person, in meetings, and in editorials and articles about whether “civility” is really important or even good for a healthy democracy, with many claiming that it is merely a tool to promote political correctness while quelling free speech.

              Sharing a common understanding of exactly what civility means seems a good place to start in addressing at least some of these frictions.  The Institute defines civility as “claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”  That may sound deceptively simple.  It allows for respect of differences and appreciation for diversity.  And when differences of opinion occur, it takes hard work.

              The events of January 6th in this country and the necessity of massive security on January 20th sharply illustrate that the peaceful transfer of power, once a trusted hallmark of this country, cannot be taken for granted.  If civility is valued as anything, it must be seen as less a weapon for restricting freedom of speech, and more as an essential tool to keep our government, our society, and our lives in community running as smoothly as possible.  Without it, the very freedoms we all cherish are in jeopardy. 

We’ve got a lot going on in this country and around the world.  There are a lot of problems to be addressed.  Let’s do what we can to do it together – civilly.