brian j plachta
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Return to Civility-A Vision & A Call to Action
by brian j plachta on November 27th, 2016

​ We all know the problem. 
 
We see it in the shooting of young black men, and police officers. 
 
In protests that turn violent and ugly.
 
It rears its nasty head in our own lives as we shout at each other on Facebook. Verbally (and sometimes physically) attacking those who don’t share our vision.
 
Silencing those who have opposing views.
 
Road rage when someone cuts us off in traffic. 
 
Laughing when others are smeared in the media. 
 
Demonizing others out of fear.
 
Even lawyers (myself included) who are supposed to be the learned profession holding the torch of justice and truth can become aggressive and angry in the way we challenge our opponents, sometimes resorting to personal attacks and slurs against other attorneys.
 
Let’s give the problem a name so we can tackle it: rudeness, disrespect, offensiveness, and vulgarity. Uncivil behavior has become far too common in our culture.  And it’s not just one person or political party, or the media. It’s all of us when we lose our sense of civility at home, in the workplace, or in our communities.
 
So, what’s the solution?  How do we dig ourselves out of the stench hole we’ve created in our culture?
 
I wonder if it’s a return to civility—a return to disagreeing without being disagreeable, setting aside political correctness, which has become a bandwagon for silencing those who disagree with us.  Is it time we re-learn respect, politeness, the art of graciousness?
 
According to the Washington think-tank, the Institute for Civility in Government:
 
            Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without   degrading someone else’s in the process.
 
            Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first   step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a     starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions,    and teaching others to do the same.
 
            Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a   necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is   about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and  nobody’s is ignored.
           
            And civility begins with us.

 
What if we started an Institute for Civility here in our community? 
 
What if we joined together and began to teach ourselves how to return to civility, to recognize when and how we lose it, how to regain it, and how to respectfully call each other out when it rears its head?
 
We have spent the last decade learning diversity and have made great progress in accepting our differences.  However for some reason that has also separated us into our own camps pushing us to view reality from a single-minded, I’m right and you’re wrong, and only-my-life matters perspective. 
 
Maybe it’s time to go the next step. To learn to embrace our diversity and allow it to create a common ground upon which we can join together instead of tearing each other apart with our political and religious views and, me-first, I’m-right demands.
 
Our wise mentors teach that there is often a tension between two polarities that must be named and held, and out of which comes something better, something holy, something that’s infused with love and truth, which emerges out of the struggle like a phoenix. It’s called the law of three—where out of two opposing forces a third redeeming force emerges with a healing life force and energy.
 
I wonder if the two polarities in our culture, which have created the tension we are now experiencing are these:  rough individualism and raw fear.  And perhaps civility is the reconciling force that will emerge if we restore it as a key virtue. Civility, respect for ourselves and each other as we work together for the common good, allowing our differences to unite and inspire us, to attain a higher collective wisdom.
 
But just as it took decades, and institutes, and training funded by like-minded citizens and foundations to teach us diversity, it will take the same intentional and focused energy to teach us civility. 
 
Maybe beating our swords and angry tongues into plowshares requires us to band together and pick up the tools offered by such organizations as the Institute for Civility in Government to teach our children and ourselves what it means to live in a civil nation.
 
I for one am ready.  I am tired of rhetoric and finger-pointing, and listening to people stomp on each other’s dreams and visions and hopes, much less our flag. I am tired of fearful, angry voices that rub our noses in our flaws, but offer no objective solutions. I am ready to focus on relearning civility as the solution, as an invitation.
 
We have been gifted with an opportunity to hold our tongues, and quiet our fears, and listen to what wisdom is trying to teach us.  I am ready for a return to civility.  I am hungry for the hope it offers, the common peace it will unfold, if we but pull up our sleeves and get our fingers dirty teaching each other and ourselves how to be civil again. 
 
Can we create a Civility Institute here in West Michigan like we did when we funded and rallied around the Diversity Training, which impacted our community in so many positive ways?  Can we create the workshops, and training manuals, and coursework we will need to relearn the art of civility?  Can we then take those tools into our workplace, our spiritual life centers, government, courtrooms, churches, and classrooms so we can raise the bar higher than it is right now? 
 
I think we can.  I think we must.
 
I’m in.  How about you?
 
 
—brian j plachta


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