Beyond Civility: Murray & Simpson
Perhaps some trust exercises at Camp Joy would improve civility in politics!
On Monday, May 20th, Beyond Civility held their final event of their first ever Side-by-side series at the WCET Studios on Central Parkway. Featured in the event was Republican City Council candidate Amy Murray and Democratic Councilmember and candidate Yvette Simpson. Amy and Yvette told stories that gave the audience insight into their lives and displayed how their political views were formed, especially during their early years.
The goal of the Beyond Civility Project is to inspire, encourage, and provide tools for better communication for more effective governance.
One initiative in pursuit of that goal is the Side-by-Side series which aims to create more personal relationships among elected officials and between those officials and the public they serve.
Side-by-Side presenters take turns answering questions about influential people and events from their early life, particularly their teenage years, which are believed to be the most formative of lasting values.
Yvette recalled growing up poor in Lincoln Heights where, she said, all politics were local. She described a broken family and being raised by her grandmother, and credited the very strong women in her life who inspired her, pushed her, and helped her pursue her dreams. When asked about the underprivileged and how her family viewed them, Yvette responded, “Well, we probably fit into that class, so we thought they were pretty cool.” She told of writing to Oprah with total certainty she would be invited to be on the show, and her disappointment when that didn’t happen.
Amy described life in a small Minnesota town within a tight knit family, safe from the major issues in the world. Her life changed dramatically when she decided to study abroad in Japan during her teenage years. As a young girl living in a foreign country with a new family, a new language, and a new culture, she learned to adapt to new situations and become more accepting of differences.
The night was filled with great stories. Some were funny, some were serious, but all were revealing of the character of these two interesting and highly successful women.
When talking about how she overcame adversity to be the first person in her family to go to college and finally become a lawyer, Yvette said, “if you have a vision and you have a passion, and you are in the right environment, then you can succeed. I don’t think I’m special, but I do think I had those three things. And I tell kids that all the time.” Earlier in the evening, Yvette informed the audience she told her grandmother at the age of 8 that she would be a lawyer one day, but unlike all the pictures she’d seen of male attorneys, she would wear a skirt!
On civility and how to improve the political environment on City Council, Amy stated, “ I think events like this help, I think the more we are in a room together, working together, having lunch, the better our personal relationships become.” She recalled how surprised she was that people so quickly defined politicians as symbols once they were in office. Her major influence to run for office came from being involved in the community and deciding that she had something to offer. Although her only memory of politics growing up in Minnesota was how upset her neighbors were when the size of the bass they were allowed to catch was raised from 12 inches to 14 inches, she grew to love politics.
As different as the two women were, similarities were apparent. Both were resident assistants during their college years, neither woman expected to run for political office, and both laughed that one way to improve civility in politics would be to go to Camp Joy to do some trust exercises with colleagues, “Ok, I’m falling now, please catch me!”
The premise for the series is that if you know someone on a personal level, you are less likely to objectify and demonize them, and are more likely to listen to and be able to understand them. Audience results have strongly supported that assumption, and Monday night was no exception.
At the end of the event, Bob Rack, Co-Founder of the Beyond Civility Project described a recent Back-to-Back event, in which a Democrat and Republican debate current issues by arguing for the opposite Party’s point of view, and asked the audience to share suggestions for future participants via the contact form at www.beyondcivility.org.
The Beyond Civility Project is planning a second series of public Side-by-Side events to begin in the fall. For all future announcements and information, visit the website and sign up for the Beyond Civility email list.