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The Importance of Civility, Part 2

In my last blog I invited my readers to consider how much civility there seems to be in the world these days. I shared some important definitions about civility, including the wisdom of M. Scott Peck, who stated that: “Civility is something more than organizational behavior that is merely ‘consciously motivated.’ It must be ethical as well.”

Consider how ethical and civil the following comment by the former president is – and I share this not to offend anyone who hopes Mr. Trump becomes president again but rather a comment that I believe most of us would consider to be uncivil: “How did I do with the debate the other night? I kicked that old broken-down pile of crap. Now we have Kamala. She’s so f—king bad” he said in footage obtained by The Daily Beast and later shared by Trump on his Truth Social feed on July 3.

I found the information in an article from Psychology Today entitled Is Civility Dead in America?  written in July of 2016 to be helpful, especially the suggestions the author made. 

Sadly, we seem to be living in an increasingly uncivil community. From presidential politics to random internet comments, there seems to be more and more rude, demeaning, insulting, and aggressive language and behavior in our society.

Research on the topic of incivility has found that mental and physical health, worker productivity and employee retention, customer relations, and so forth all greatly suffer when work and social environments are uncivil. And there is social contagion with incivility in that if uncivil behavior occurs and is not confronted by corrective feedback or consequences, it tends to be more readily repeated and spreads to others. Additionally, observational learning theory suggests that when leaders and those held in high esteem in our culture behave in uncivil ways their behavior is modeled and repeated by others. 

Helpful operational definitions of civil behaviors that we may wish to encourage, embrace, and reinforce include:

  • Thinking before speaking
  • Focus on facts rather than beliefs and opinions
  • Focus on the common good rather than individual agendas
  • Disagreeing with others respectfully
  • An openness to others without hostility
  • Respectfulness of diverse views and groups
  • A spirit of collegiality
  • Offering productive and corrective feedback to those who behave in demeaning, insulting, disrespectful, and discriminatory ways

Forms of uncivil behavior that should be avoided include the following:

  • Interrupting and talking over others who have the floor
  • Insults as well as overgeneralized and dispositional character criticisms and attributions
  • Use of aggressive, sarcastic, or demeaning language and tone
  • Refusal to acknowledge the good points of others

We can all decide to uphold the principles and practices of civility. We can avoid the temptation to get down in the mud and shift to being uncivilized. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

When we have opportunities to influence young people, we can explain the power and importance of civility, affirm them when they are civil and respectful in the face of controversy, and point out the impact they can have when either respectful or uncivil.

I often recommend that people remain vigilant as careful consumers and critical thinkers. Being able to recognize civility and a lack of civility is one of the ways we can be careful consumers and critical thinkers. I believe it is essential for promoting the integrity of our country, our communities and even our families that we will promote civility. As I said earlier in this blog, I am not trying to insert opinions about the current state of politics, because both sides engage in this practice, but rather I am hoping to encourage people to be more aware of the degrees to which those who are supposed to be role models, and who are in power, are also civil.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What do you think the world thinks of our country in terms of our civility?
  2. What do you notice about your own civility? Have any less civil statements crept into your language?
  3. Are there any young people you can share this information with?

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