SEEMS TO ME... Civility remains a major problem

impossible. In county government we should all be promot- ing the concepts and practice of civility in public meetings and our interactions with one another. Yes, your words and your communication style matter. Tink before you speak. My last County Lines article was about how to run a meet- ing the right way. In the last two paragraphs of that article I alluded to civility. In this article I will delve deeper into the ethic of civility — morally acceptable behavior towards fel- low human beings. I’ve heard it said that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often lack civility. Although one might make a case for an element of truth in that statement, it does not have to be that way. First of all, who could be so shallow as to believe that their positions are 100 percent correct and that anyone who does not think and believe just as they do are 100 percent wrong? If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we are not always correct about everything. No man nor woman alive today has the scope of knowledge and intelligence to know everything. Even though government and politics is rough and tough,


we are all human beings first and foremost. Tat is why it is so important for us to have civil dialogue. We are not all cut from the same cloth nor cast in the same mold. If we were, we could just let one person call all the shots, and we would all be hunky-dory. But we are all different and have different ideas about how

government should work. Tat’s why one person does not call all the shots. We have a Constitution in the United States that establishes a federal democratic republic form of gov- ernment. Te major difference between a democracy and a republic is that a republic is a form of government whereas a democracy is an ideology that helps shape how a government is run. Put another way: a republic is the system of govern- ment that allows a country to be democratic. All democracies are characterized by a shared ideology or system of beliefs. Democracies have four foundational characteristics: (1) free and fair elections; (2) citizen participation; (3) protection of citizen human rights; and (4) rule of law. If elections are how citizens make their voices heard, then

laws are the ways that citizens’ desires are enforced. Laws are a tool people can use to make sure ideals of democracy like freedom and basic human rights are maintained. Rule of law is the cornerstone of all democratic societies. And democracies


enowned actress Olivia De Havilland said, “It’s hard to keep on being civil when they ask you such annoying questions.” It is sometimes hard to be civil, but it’s not

begin to crack and crumble when there is a lack of civility. From our flame-throwing politics to

our ever-widening divisions on cultural hot-button issues, there’s plenty going on to get riled up about. A recent poll by Weber Shandwick Powell Tate finds that the vast majority of Americans — a whopping 93 percent — identify a civility problem with most classifying it as a major problem. Sixty-three percent of Americans say the impact of social media on civility has been more negative than positive. Fifty-four percent of Americans expect the gen- eral tone and level of civility in the country to decline even further during the next few years. But there was some good news. Despite the unwavering senti- ment that America has a civility problem in government and politics, a positive note is sounded on the general level of civility in the workplace. About 89 percent of Americans who work with others describe their place of employment as very or some- what civil. A civil workplace affects job performance in positive ways. It will in government and politics, too, so we need to put it to use. Civil discourse is key to a healthy democracy. Civility involves competing sets of “right” values: the value

of free expression versus the value of respect for fellow partic- ipants in the democratic process. Critics have attributed the erosion of civility in society to the elevation of self-expression over self-control.

Tis is a fairly easy ethical dilemma to resolve insofar as it is possible to be both expressive and civil, and therefore maxi- mize both values. Tere is an argument that more people will be inclined to participate in a public deliberative process that focuses on the merits and demerits of an issue, as opposed to focusing on personal attacks. Civility refers to the way people treat each other with

respect, even when they disagree. Even though disagreement and confrontation play a necessary role in government and politics, the issue is how that disagreement is expressed. Te key is to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of proposed solutions to problems, not to engage in personal attacks against those who favor different solutions. Government’s inability to deal with a broad range of problems results from the destructive way in which issues are addressed. Tere is a “reap-what-you-sow” element to our actions.

If public officials themselves attack their fellow officehold- ers, who can blame the public for believing the attacks and engaging in the same kind of attacks? If personal attacks permeate the interactions of public officials, there is the


Eddie A. Jones County Consultant

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