Leadership Perspectives: Being Civil

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought lately to the concept of civility.

Pier Massimo Forni, author of Choosing Civility and founder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, says “Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.”

“ A generous friend gives life for a friend.  Let’s rise above this animalistic behavior and be kind to one another.”  - Rumi

Last night, I was talking (texting) with my son. He and his boyfriend had had a tiff, and they were both working to breathe their way through their feelings, and be mindful about the next right step. We talked about how relationships develop, how frustrating they can be, and how to maintain the love and respect we have for each other throughout the years. What it boils down to is being civil, even when you disagree with your partner.

  • It becomes less about the drive to “be right” (“Where’s the fun in that, Mom? Not a family trait. LOL) and more about the drive to understand.
  • It’s about not taking things personally – especially when feeling judged by another. Their judgments are things they are dealing with, not you. (But I can’t find my stuff when he moves it!) You can step away from the fear and frustration when it’s not about you.
  • It’s about never making an assumption, but asking a lot of questions to seek clarity instead.
  • It’s about spending more time in reflection before you respond to a question or something said in anger. Check yourself to determine what outcome you are looking for, and pick the intention that will result in that outcome.  (Luckily I’m getting better at keeping my mouth shut, and making up, rather than just becoming a better fighter. LOL)
  • Be impeccable with your words. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. (We’ll be fine. Sometimes ya just gotta take a moment to breathe first. )

For me, being civil is living in mutual respect and having meaningful connections and conversations across and among groups. These are necessary to building trust and social capital in our government, community, churches, businesses, and in our homes.  It means being able to know what truth is, and being able to speak it, while at the same time listening carefully to the truth of those we do not understand or know.

Being civil goes far beyond the concept of politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. Civility is remembering to love one another, not just those who think the same way I do.  It means stepping away from the name calling and badgering that has become so popular on social sites.

The joy in this civility is that both sides learn and grow, and find common ground enabling forward movement.  As we listen, learn and grow we allow a shift to take place that permits us to embrace our brothers and sisters around the world, in our government, around the conference room table, or around the dining room table.

It takes courage to be civil. Civility is not necessarily non-confrontational or conciliatory. Sometimes truth requires us to say things that others do not want to hear. What civility brings to the table is that we recognize that truth can be said with love, compassion and respect. And, we acknowledge that the truth we speak may be only our truth by taking the time to listen to others.

There are tangible costs to rudeness. We are seeing them come to fruition all around us. I don’t believe we can’t come back from this downward spiral. It only requires us to leverage civility.

Today, I will practice being civil in all I say and do.

If you are willing, please share the experience of your day with us.


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