Practicing Civility in an Era of Incivility

February 25th, 2015 by Peninsula Mediation

It is January 21, 2017 and I am watching the Women’s March on Washington from the warmth of my home and listening to speaker after speaker express hopes and aspirations in ardent and sometimes discordant but civil ways. Their messages are diverse yet coallesce around the shared higher-level value of love for all of one’s neighbors.   So many bright lights in an otherwise gray late January day.  This movement is a “civil” war of sorts. One that values difference and civility.

Even after an astonishing 2017 US Presidential Campaign, the incivility came my way the day after the election. I had broken my rule of not “sharing” my political views on Face Book and the backlash was almost immediate, and equally astonishing. “You rich white people….” was the epitaph lobbed my way, and from a childhood friend no less. Why would anyone objectify me in this hateful way? This was personal…..or was it? It took some time for me to think about the conditions that give rise to such incivility. Ok, I’m white. But rich? What?

It is easy to rush to judging others without seeing our own part in the problem. After bristling at the income inequality bating, I had to admit that I was experiencing my indignance from vacation in Barcelona. My thoughts rushed to, “I’ve been incredibly blessed with amazing work and opportunity and I work hard. I make my sacrifices too, like seventy-percent of my life spent on the road for work. A woman road warrior. I provide income and financial support for a lot of people. My friend Stephanie calls me the Sherpa.” My opportunity and sweat equity are not the cause of income inequality, though income inequality exists. Many are hurting and in many ways.

Having taught workshops on civility in the workplace, I wonder what the next year will be like. During a time when civility was a tacit value of many institutions, unacceptable behavior was still tolerated all to often. We had enough difficulty promoting civil rights and general civility in the workplace when laws and institutional policies created legal standards for such behavior.   And now, how will we promote civil behavior in a time when name calling, bullying, and vulgarity seem to go unchecked? Just hope that people will select employees on merit instead of familiarity? Take the incredible amount of time and effort to hold bad actors accountable for misconduct, knowing that our remedial actions may be undermined upon appeal to higher authorities? This creates an interesting new dynamic.

We seem to be moving into a time when civil behavior may be more of an individual choice than an institutional requirement.

(Look for upcoming posts on the topic of “civility” in the workplace)

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