What is civility?

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

Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, Founders, Institute for Civility

But wait…

Isn’t civility just politeness?

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, understanding biases and personal preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. 

Traditional applications of civility that emphasize manners and behavior over meaningful engagement and shared understanding have led us to a fatal misunderstanding of how to resolve our differences. Forced politeness that conceals authentic human feeling only fosters resentment and drives agendas underground.

At the Institute for Civility, we believe the call to civility is nothing short of a call to our shared humanity where respect, kindness, compassion, and dialogue grow out of a commitment to an ever-deepening understanding of self and others.

The Definition

Achieving Alignment

The first step to enhancing civility is aligning on what it is and isn’t. The Institute for Civility’s definition of civility has been largely recognized as a concise, comprehensive description of this important construct. The definition has been cited extensively in books, peer-reviewed journals, articles, and more.

“If we could just get that part, I think we’d have it nailed. So claiming and caring for my identity and my needs and my beliefs, without degrading yours.”

— Brené Brown

On Being Podcast, talking about her book, Braving the Wilderness, in which she cites the Institute’s definition of civility.


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