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 articles seem eclectic, but most focus on an important idea: the transformative potential of domestic spaces and individual behavior. Gina DeLapa’s contribution is exemplary in this respect. Here, she recounts an interaction she had at a grocery store — quiet, and seemingly devoid of larger impact. But her advice is resonant: speak up, she tells us, when you see something that seems wrong, or out of place, or offensive. It may be momentarily uncomfortable, but one awkward conversation can have a real positive effect.
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 [email protected]ituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.
Now — the list:
Angels, Men and Government: Bringing Civility Back to the Political Discourse
Posted by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz at The Huffington Post, November 23, 2015
Politicians are not immune from emotional shaming. As the pressure builds, the constant rebuke from all sides may harden them in ways that make them less compassionate and more ideologically narrow. This is the opposite of what, in my view, we need in our leaders. As equally important are the people that elect those into office: we are not immune to the impact upon ourselves and our culture when we engage in diatribes and screeds in lieu of reasoned debate. Each of us in the political ecosystem is profoundly and importantly imperfect. As James Madison wrote all those years ago, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary” (Federalist No. 51). We are flawed; the system is flawed. But that doesn’t mean we should expect perfection of intellect and temperament from our politicians. We are a rapidly changing society, for better or worse, and we hold the power to shape the future of this nation. The quest to make this a “more perfect union” is never-ending. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, let’s cease our petulant attitude towards those running for the highest office in the land and begin pursuing a rational course of action that will have consequence for decades to come.
Was it easy to speak up? No. But for thirty seconds of discomfort, we did our part to clean up the culture. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s become considerably harsher.
We don’t have to go looking for proof of this. The proof will find us. When it does, whether at home, work, a meeting, or anywhere else, I challenge you to listen to your better instincts, and when the time is right, say something. If I can do it, you can do it.
Forni says, “Self-expression belongs to the natural order of things. We owe it to ourselves to express ourselves, and there is something good and healthful in bringing forward and acting upon our thoughts and feelings. However, this doesn’t mean all we want to express is equally worthy of expression. The unruly, brazen and reckless give self-expression a bad name. Going through life under the sway of unchecked impulses may be self-expression, but irresponsible self-indulgence.”
We have become affected by the skepticism of our time. We tend not to believe what we do not see. Back to the Santa debate — when a child begins to question what is real, try to encourage them to think of others, those that are younger, or from different backgrounds. Perhaps there isn’t one right answer. Just because I don’t believe flying reindeer deliver the jolly old man in the red coat, perhaps I should embrace the spirit that the old man represents — one of joy, giving, kindness, and just a dash of tolerance. And again the question, “Do you have to be wrong, in order for me to be right?”
The recent federal election saw a renewed interest in civility, which is sometimes thought of as purely good manners but goes much deeper. On election night, Justin Trudeau referred to Laurier’s 1895 “Sunny Ways” speech, which itself can be traced back to the 6th-century B.C. fabulist Aesop. The story goes that the disputatious Sun and Wind were having it out as to who was more powerful. A passerby wrapped in a cloak was to be the test. The howling wind tries to blow off the garment, only to have the man cling all the more to it; by contrast, the gentle sun shines his warm, dulcet rays which (of course) have the effect of making the fellow disrobe.
While the PM-elect cleverly recalled this story, especially within the context of Canadian history and his party’s greatest leader, “Sunny Ways” have been with us in Canada since 2010, when Johnston was appointed. His cheerful disposition — look no further than the swearing in of the Liberal cabinet where no one was enjoying themselves more than the Governor General — and sterling reputation for working in any co-operative venture have made him a winsome choice by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
To me, it seems that three factors contribute to incivility. The first is a lack of humility. At its core, civility requires humility; it requires an acknowledgment that we’re not at the center of the universe. This humility gives us the realization that we need to behave in ways that recognize others and their feelings. This leads us to our second factor. Civility, especially civil discourse, requires us to not only acknowledge that others are important, it also requires acknowledging that we may be wrong. One of the things that makes a controversial topic controversial is that the answer or solution isn’t obvious. The correct path is unclear. Pick any of the many difficult challenges facing our society. Regardless of the issue, I don’t know the answer, and neither do you. You may think you know, but you don’t. You may believe in an approach, but you don’t really know if it will work. Sure, we can and should apply evidence and reason, but at the end of the day, there are too many unknowns to really know the answers. (By the way, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t advocate for certain positions or solutions. It just means that we should listen to contrary views, as I noted in an earlier column.) Finally, incivility comes from cluelessness. Sometimes we’re simply unaware of how we appear to others. We just don’t think about how we come off to other people. Most of the people I’ve unfollowed are nice people. They aren’t trying to be uncivil, they just seem a bit clueless about how they may be perceived.