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.