“The very fact that we have people seeking to change civility, that’s an expression of civility’s value. The true crisis of civility is if none of us cared. If we all stopped caring about what counts as appropriate behavior, then civility’s not in crisis, it’s dead.”
–Keith Bybee, Author of How Civility Works
Last year this segment on civility aired on CBS Sunday Morning, and it is important to bring this back to light in the wake of the government shutdown. All this debate of who won and who lost the stalemate overshadows the fact that around the country, and even around the world, the conversation is again calling upon the Civil Graces that seem to be slipping from everyday relations. And yet, if you consider the work being done by various organizations and individuals–leaders of all walks of life including the two Congress members featured in this segment who founded the “Civility and Respect Caucus” each of them on opposite sides of the aisle, there is a reason for hope.
The very fact that we are still seeing behaviors as unreal means that we know what is real. When we see unbelievable actions displayed, that means we still know what we do believe. Civil Graces are more than manners. Civil Graces are principles that address the question of how shall we live with one another and both find a way to a life of meaning and purpose. It is about understanding that we don’t have to agree to be together. Part of the challenge of a democratic nation is that we have to make space for it all.
Our attitudes are one of the most important determiners in this. When we choose to see the world as falling apart, there is plenty out there to suggest we are right. However, if you choose to see these changing times as an opportunity for us to confront some age-old behaviors and beliefs that no longer fit, well then there is definitely a reason for hope. The challenge of our modern world with so much exhausting noise surrounding us is to do some introspection. For example, I was finding myself being annoyed when people sped by my house each morning, and yet one day while taking my son to school, I asked myself, “how are my driving habits?” It was interesting to observe the posted speed limits as I passed other houses and how I felt anxiety at the pressure from the car behind me to speed up. I realized I had unconsciously been doing what I found fault in others, and I made a commitment to change my habit. This is a small thing on the scale of life, but maybe not when you think about how many people are injured and killed in auto accidents each year. Respect for others is a Civil Grace and therefore taking the time to drive more mindfully is something I have adopted.
While the tone of our national politics is probably an area where we have limited control, we can control the way we speak, post and comment on those issues. I read an article in the newspaper the other day that had me infuriated, and upon doing a little more research, I found out that there was another side to the story. It made me think twice about posting my opinions. How often have we seen that there is another side of the story that doesn’t always come immediately to light? Why spend time justifying my actions because someone was worse? Isn’t it just so much easier to look outside and point to one another than to do the inner work of transformation? We all know what we can do differently if we are willing
The reason I am hopeful about this current era is because many people are asking these questions and are engaging in meaningful dialogue to learn about how to have civil discourse, individuals on opposing sides are realizing that something has to be done to bring the whole back together, and issues which were long in the shadows are coming to the public square to be examined. How then shall we live together knowing we are all so different? These are exciting times because so many of us care!!
Stay in touch with the dialogue on our social media page–Facebook: @CivilGracesProject.