Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square

10 Rules that Work

A landmark guide from the co-founders of the Institute for Civility, Reclaiming Civility is a modern civility handbook. Whether for yourself, your team, your students, or others, everyone can benefit from the relationship-building tools taught in this guide to civic life.

Emerging from an era of strategic divisiveness, this book is like a life preserver thrown to one who is drowning. From the school board to the president, this is the thinking person’s user’s guide to the American democracy.

Hill Kemp, Author and former Texas State Representative

Written by the Institute for Civility co-founders, this civility book is a user-friendly guide to how civility in the governing process—and broader civic life—is possible. Each rule is illustrated with a true life story. These stories not only demonstrate how the rule works but also give evidence that, while “civility in government” may sound like an oxymoron to some, there are examples to be found showing civility to be alive and well.

The book lends itself to small group study and is designed as a user-friendly handbook. Written in plain language, each of the short chapters invites reflection and conversation about how that rule works in our own lives, and how it can work in our lives in our communities. The lessons of this book are applicable to everything from our personal conversations in stores, schools, and our homes to international diplomacy. There is encouragement here for each of us to be involved in civic life writ large in a positive way.

It is not difficult today to find people who share a concern about the lack of civility in our society in general, and our public discourse in particular. What is difficult is to find people who believe they can do anything about the degree of civility in our political processes beyond remaining civil themselves.

Chapter #: Rule name here

The uncomfortable truth is that if we are to solve the difficult problems we face as a national community, we must act affirmatively and with courage and clarity to reclaim civility in the public square. Civility is quite simply the glue that holds us together and allows us as citizens of a representative democracy to dialogue with each other.

Chapter #: Rule name here
  • Preface (p. i)
  • Part 1:  The Problem (p. 1)
  • Part 2:  The Solution (p. 8)
    • Rule #1:  Know Yourself (p. 9)
    • Rule #2:  Listen with Your Strength (p. 16)
    • Rule #3:  Respect:  Differences are Enriching (p. 20)
    • Rule #4:  Listen with Your Mind (p. 26)
    • Rule #5:  Help Comes from the Most Unexpected Places (p. 31)
    • Rule #6:  Relationship is Everything (p. 39)
    • Rule #7:  Listen with Your Heart (p. 46)
    • Rule #8:  Trust, Trust, Trust (p. 53)
    • Rule #9:  One is Powerful (p. 58)
    • Rule #10:  Numbers Count (p. 63)
  • Part 3:  The Challenge (p. 68)
    • Go For It! (p. 69)
    • Success Stories of Individuals Involved with the Institute Who Have Accepted the Challenge: Proof Civility Works! (p. 73)
    • Conclusion:  Hope for the future.  How do you become a participant rather than a bystander? (p. 90)
  • Appendices
    • About the Institute (p. 94)
    • Books on Civility and Politics Reviewed by the Institute (p. 96)
    • How to Contact Your Elected Representatives and Government Agencies (p. 99)
    • Civility:  Past & Present (p. 101)
    • Participation in Common Civic Life (p. 107)
    • Study Guide with Questions for Discussion Using Success Stories from Others Outside the Institute Who Have Modeled Civility (p. 112)
  • End Notes (p. 123)
  • About the Authors (p. 131)

Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath are co-founders of the Institute for Civility, a grassroots non-profit organization that works to bring more civility to the governing process in our communities and our nation. With more than 30 years of experience in leading legislative conferences, Cassandra and Tomas know first-hand what it takes for citizens to be effectively engaged in the political process on Capitol Hill and beyond. Along with Donna Bowling, they have co-authored a book, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square – 10 Rules That Work. They have addressed community groups, schools, churches and members of Congress, and have been interviewed on radio and television, including PBS, C-SPAN, NPR and CBC. Both Cassandra and Tomas have mediation training.

Cassandra has a BA in Sociology from Texas Tech University and a M.Div. from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Tomas Spath brings a cross-cultural perspective to his work as he was born and raised in Argentina.  He holds a BA in Spanish from Gettysburg College and a M.Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary.

Donna Curtis Bowling is a writer, teacher, speaker and occasional preacher. She obtained her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma, her J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies Degree concentrating in Ethics from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Her poetry has appeared in Windhover, the 2013 and 2014 Texas Poetry Calendar, Peace Words, Blue Hole and the Baylor House of Poetry.


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In this carefully constructed yet easy-to-absorb book, the authors outline 10 simple, practical steps to help bring us into relationship with each other once again. I urge you to buy and read this book – and watch your life change.
Sandy Wilder
Host, Austin Faith Dialogue TV show
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Practical advice to make our nation’s politics less harsh and more effective
David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World
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Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square explores a topic whose importance cannot be underestimated.
Louis Dobin
Director, URJ Greene Family Camp
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…a useful blueprint for personal action.
Robert E. Biles, Ph.D.,
Professor and Chair of Political Science, Sam Houston State University