Editor’s note: To make our world less dysfunctional, civility is a force multiplier. Constructive criticism can be extended in a non-degrading way. When in the middle of a discussion, if someone offers to “discuss some of the details offline,” it means that they may be offering to listen to you when you are not under public scrutiny, as in a group meeting. They might have some useful information to share privately, too. It is like saying, “Stick a pin in it and let’s revisit this thing together.”
Of course, there is always the opposite goal to tear our society completely down and morph into shrieking Betelgeusians at a magpie wedding. But as the old saying goes, “Let’s not; and say we did.” … Erica P. Wissinger
First published on VT, 18 March 2022
Submitted by Carol A. Clark on March 3, 2022
Civility–Why It Matters
[ The League’s position on civility does not imply any curtailing of First Amendment rights or limiting public engagement. A civil political atmosphere that allows for enthusiastic debate, dissent, and creating consensus is the best path to a truly democratic society. Ref. Civility Matters on All Sides ]
By Becky Shankland and Barbara Calef, Co-presidents, League of Women Voters
In letters to the School Board and in several County Council meetings, observers have been noticing an increase in harsh, impolite, even abusive language from members of the public addressing our elected officials.
What are the consequences?
- Residents will be deterred from participating in our local government, fearful of being attacked or upset by disrespectful and hurtful comments.
- People will hesitate to run for office, feeling that they may be targets of unhappy citizens.
- Resolution of important issues will be delayed when the discourse is too emotional.
League observers and others have been dismayed by attacks directed at individuals. It’s a valuable tradition that in political discourse, one argues against a policy, not a person.
It’s not only in politics that we need civility. The playground, the classroom, the playing field, the political forum all depend on the fair treatment of those who participate. The playground bully, the classroom clown, the political quarreler—all these prevent others from enjoyment, learning, or mature discussion.
Civil discourse does not insist on everyone agreeing, only on sharing all the views and perspectives that shape people’s positions using an open process.
What can be done?
- Avoid rhetoric intended to humiliate, malign, or question the motivation of those whose opinions are different from yours.
- Speak truthfully without accusation, and avoid distortion.
- Respect the right of all people to hold different opinions and perspectives by keeping a bipartisan mindset.
The board of the League of Women Voters reminds all of you—to keep it civil!