Today I’m writing in honor of May as National Civility Month. It’s been over ten years since I penned The Civility Pledge:

I pledge to behave with civility, treating myself and others with respect and consideration.

I pledge to show compassion & curiosity.

I pledge to be gracious, honest, authentic and wholly present – right here, right now.

I pledge to invite others to take the Pledge and to engage in intentional and civil conversations.

 

And in those years, we have seen and head civil discourse devolve even further. When I wrote the Pledge, I thought the level of rancor was unimaginably high. I had no frame of reference for what was to come.

I’m not here to preach at you or tell you that you’re wrong or a bad person. I’m here to invite you to step into a higher version of yourself. Everyone of us has areas where we can improve. Perhaps this is one area for you?

Civility is still talked about, even called for, at the same time that we personally are guilty of uncivil thoughts and behaviors. Like so much in our society, we make the others responsible for the problems, rather than seeing our role in it. And, yes I understand that it’s hard for us to look at our deficiencies and make the tough decisions, then actions to improve. Yet, that is exactly what we are called to do, spiritually and as citizens of the world.

Before going further, let’s do a bit of level-setting and talk about the definition of civility.

  • What is civility? Definitions range from simply using good manners to George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation, https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/rules-of-civility/ where he lists 110 behaviors to consider. Number one on his list: “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”
    • The word civility comes from the wordcivis, which in Latin means “citizen”. And from civilis, relating to a society, pertaining to public life, relating to the civic order, befitting a citizen.”
  • Why is civility important? In short because it helps us get along.
    • Sheila Suess Kennedy pretty well nails it here: “We cannot find common ground without civility, and we cannot solve our problems without finding common ground.”
    • Civility is like a lubricant to problem-solving. It helps ease the tight places making it easier to get to the root of the problem. Through a shared set of values and expectations, we feel safe to explore areas of vulnerability, disagreement, and deep-rooted and personally help beliefs. When you pull out a can of WD40, you know what to expect. It will help that screen door roll smoothly along its track, preventing it from getting stuck.
  • Who needs to practice civility, and how should they do it? This is where I’d like to offer a somewhat different approach than many of the organizations working to improve civil behavior. I’ve come to belief in recent years that this is largely, if not completely and inside job. In other words, our efforts should be about getting others to behave with civility. To illustrate my own evolved thinking, I offer this story:
    • Soon after writing the civility pledge and being completely frustrated by the acrimony in Congress, I decided to mail the pledge to each member of Congress, both House and Senate. That’s approximately 535 letters. I asked each member to take the pledge. Not one responded. Not one.
    • Today I’m offering a different approach, and one that we have total control over. Instead of trying to get other people to behave better, it needs to start with us. We must take personal responsibility, take the pledge, and then change our ways of thinking and behaving. I often said to my son when faced with typical teenager backtalk that ‘he could think whatever he wanted but couldn’t always say it’. I’ve evolved on this point as well. Because our behavior often reflects our thinking. If I’m thinking mean or judgmental thoughts, it’s much more likely that I will act on them than if I didn’t hold the thoughts to begin with.

So, here’s the deal. Take personal responsibility. Practice the golden rule. Mind your manners as our parents and mentors taught us. The solution is simple. It starts with me. And it starts now. With each thought and action I take. My job is to take the high road. To put myself in the others’ shoes. I could go on with the advice we’ve received and the cute quotes we’ve been taught. But in the end, they’re all true. At least, IMHO.

Will you join me in taking the Civility Pledge? Not so we can change others, but so we can change ourselves.

I pledge to behave with civility, treating myself and others with respect and consideration.

I pledge to show compassion & curiosity.

I pledge to be gracious, honest, authentic and wholly present – right here, right now.

I pledge to invite others to take the Pledge and to engage in intentional and civil conversations.

 

For more information on civility and to take a short assessment to determine your Civility Quotient, please visit my Facebook page: https://survey.app.do/pg/the-civility-quotient-assessment.

Here are some other resources you may want to check out: