What’s the role of character and civility when we disagree – perhaps strongly disagree – with another? Dr. Betty Siegel, our colleague in this Ethics and Leadership initiative, and Mark DeMoss, sat on a panel together to address this question on October 20th. Mark DeMoss, a conservative Christian Republican, is the founder of The Civility Project with Lanny Davis, a liberal Jewish Democrat. As Mark says, “We don’t agree on much, but we agree on the importance of civility.” Mark believes that he is calledas a Christian to be respectful to those with whom he disagrees. But he also sees civility as the most effective way to get one’s point across to others. “Civility isn’t just important in politics. It’s important in my marriage, in my relationship with my children, and in my relationship with my employees.” He believes that we debate most effectively with words and ideas, not with volume.
Mr. DeMoss is also concerned about the example we’re setting for our children. “When children don’t get their own way, they throw a temper tantrum. Now we see adults behaving the same way. What lessons will our children learn?”
Dr. Siegel also sees children as the key to increasing civility, but believes that we can’t effectively increase civility in our culture without making character education a part of the curriculum. As a culture we have to find core values that we agree on, and support those values in our schools. The core values of the Civility Project are ones that most of us could likely agree on:
- Civility in all situations
- Courage to do what’s right
- Graciousness in conduct and speech
- Honesty in all communications
- Integrity of heart
- Respect for the right of others to hold and express views different from my own
Someone posed an interesting challenge during the Q&A period after the panelists spoke. He asked about the role of civility - and the effectiveness of civility - when really serious wrongs need to be righted. During the height of the civil rights movement in this country, for instance, didn't the enormity of the wrongs necessitate speaking out forcefully? Martin Luther King advocated nonviolence, but didn't the violent stance of groups like the Black Panthers create a climate that made people listen more willingly to King? Isn't incivility sometimes essential?
After several minutes discussion my husband and business partner, Bob Turknett, made an interesting comment. Perhaps it's not either-or. We believe that adults at the highest level of development are able to reckon with polarities, to hold opposites in tension. Bob reminded the audience of George Washington, who is famous both as the general who led the troops in the Revolutionary War and as the author of Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior. An interesting polarity indeed.