I don’t know about you, but I am ready for this election to be over. I really have tried hard not to get caught up in all the negative language and behavior of the candidates and their supporters, but it seeps through here and there. Maybe oozes is a better word. I don’t know when it became acceptable to act like this, and unfortunately with the addition of social media and 24 hour news it is almost impossible to escape the negativity and hate people are throwing around. I am proud of my friends who hold respectful discussions about politics and UNFRIEND those that don’t. And of course this just doesn’t apply to the election.
I think the popularity of text and social media has essentially replaced face to face communication. It is a hell of a lot easier to call someone names on your phone as opposed to their face. I have championed the cause of putting the phone down and actively being present with those around you. Of engaging in something that seems to be disappearing — face to face CONVERSATION. Regardless of how you choose to communicate, you can do it a respectful way. Like all of our parents told us at one time, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it all”.
What follows is information regarding civility and some tips to bring it back. I believe if each one us chooses to be civil and perhaps even call out those acting not so civil in a caring, respectful way, change can happen. We can act our way into making civility the preferred method of contact.
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. For example, when celebrity CEOs, Presidential candidates and other high ranking politicians, sports stars, and Hollywood celebrities behave in uncivil ways (and get away with it) it gets modeled and thus repeated by others.
Civility is defined as “polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior” (Merriam-Webster). Other definitions include “claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process” (Spath and Dahke, Institute for Civility in Government). Even President George Washington in his publication, Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, offered an instruction that included “every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.”
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 do our part to treat others as we wish to be treated and to be respectful and compassionate to everyone (even those with whom we disagree). While there are no simple answers, if we can work together to create a culture and environment where all (and I really do mean all) interactions (in person and online) are conducted with respect and compassion and that people who don’t behave in a civil manner are provided with corrective feedback, perhaps we can start to turn the tide in our increasingly uncivil culture.