“Political civility is not about being polite to each other. It’s about reclaiming the power of ‘We the People’ to come together, debate the common good and call American democracy back to its highest values amid our differences.” Parker Palmer
Civility in political and social discourse has seen a precipitous decline in recent years – that’s the bad news. The good news is that more and more individuals and organizations across the country and across the ideological spectrum are calling for its resurgence and recognizing the need for a return to a more polite and cooperative mode of communication.
At the University of Arizona, the National Institute for Civil Discourse has launched the #ReviveCivility campaign, an initiative “to provide tools for Americans – elected officials, members of the media and the public at large — to take solution-oriented actions that will help restore civility in our nation.”
In Ohio, an organization called Better Angels was formed to help citizens of opposing political perspectives to speak to each other without contention and vitriol. David Blankenhorn, the founder of Better Angels, has set out from Ohio with a group of like-minded colleagues to travel the country in a bus emblazoned with “One America” to teach people techniques for successful dialogue across party lines
While we can urge our elected officials to restore a sense of national unity to their rhetoric, it is not always within our power to influence the behavior of those in positions of leadership and authority. What is within our power is the way we conduct ourselves in our daily interactions, and groups like Better Angels, the National Instititute for Civil Discourse, and we here at Common Party are empowering civilians with the capability and the responsibility to alter the course of our social discourse.
The way we treat our neighbors is significant. The tenor we set in our daily interactions has broad repercussions. When we commit to conducting ourselves with empathy and civility, we can influence our friends, co-workers, and all of those we encounter to do the same.
There is an idea of Citizen Diplomacy which asserts that it is not only incumbent upon our diplomats and professional public servants to chart the course of international relations, but rather that every citizen has the opportunity to positively represent our country and foment good will with those from other nations and cultures. Today, we must enlist every American to the task of Citizen Civility, charging each of us with the opportunity and duty to reframe the narrative of partisan animus, to refocus on the commonality of purpose and idealism on which the country was founded, and to reclaim the dignity and respect which is the cornerstone of our democracy.
For more on the subject, here is a terrific recent article from the Washington Post entitled “Politicians Can’t Seem to Do It, But These Citizens Are Learning How to Find Common Ground.”
Visit Better Angels and the Revive Civility campaign to learn more about techniques for constructive dialogue.
Marc Erlbaum, Contributor