Many of us observe the national political scene with dismay and yearn for greater civility. We’d like to keep those wolves, polarization and demonization, away from our door here in River City. But what do we mean by civility? When someone addresses us, ever so politely, by saying “with all due respect,” we hear the undertone and think that what they are really saying is “you don’t have a clue.” Which is precisely why our group selected the name “Beyond Civility,” with the emphasis on the word “Beyond”.
Our mission is to find ways to diminish divisive communication in governance, and in the public arena, so that well reasoned problem-solving can take place, so that even when positions or beliefs are polarized, a useful conversation continues, rather than being shut down with combative language. Then reasonable, evidence-based, compromises can be explored.
In the last couple of years, we’ve learned a lot in our Beyond Civility “movement”. First, that when you come to understand how your negotiating partner’s belief system was formed, what have come to be their “moral intuitions,” and know something of their life story, the influences of their formative years, of family, teachers, friends, and other leaders, it becomes much easier to talk meaningfully and problem solve together. This is true for our public servants, the engaged citizenry and even in our very personal relationships.
And, we have learned that communication is a choice. The mindful selection of the words we speak matters. They drive another away and evoke an angry response, or encourage meaningful listening and a search for understanding and solutions. We do not fool ourselves into believing we can influence campaign rhetoric. But once the dust settles and our public servants take a seat at the governance table, how they choose to communicate with each other, in private and in public, and the words we choose as we communicate with our public servants, as well as with others who agree or disagree with our thinking, makes a difference.
Because, this is how we change the world, we change ourselves.