Buck Niehoff and State Rep Denise Driehaus at a Communications Workshop

When talking about the lack of civility in public discourse, most people are referring to the barrage of negative campaign ads that misquote and mischaracterize an opponent as a dishonest or dangerous person. Or they think of loud, vitriolic name calling, or attacks on the character of a speaker rather than on the content of his or her speech.

As destructive as hostile language can be, even in private interactions, it is as much a symptom as a cause of another problem: the near inability of opponents to hear and understand each other. In the spheres of public and civic governance, this inability can—and many would say today it is—hampering our democracy.

The Beyond Civility project addresses the challenge we face in trying to bridge the informational and ideological chasms that separate our leaders from each other and from their own diverse constituencies. It proposes antidotes to toxic language and styles of communication that obscure rather than clarify meaning, that repulse rather than invite understanding, and that polarize rather than unify citizens.

We may not be able to dictate how we feel, but we can choose how we communicate. The goal of this project is to identify our choices, and to advocate for those that build rather than divide our community.