Politicians love earned media, aka attention from news outlets that they don't have to pay for. But lately, one of the biggest benefactors of earned media has been the concept of civility. And it couldn't happen to a nicer notion.

Let's start with the earned media I'm giving the Choose Civility program of the Howard County, Maryland library system by using a photo of its name to accompany this blog post.

You can read the history of the program here. In a sentence, they've converted the 25 rules of considerate conduct from the book, Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni and turned them into 15 guiding rules:

Pay attention
Listen
Speak kindly
Assume the best
Respect others' opinions
Respect other people's time and space
Be inclusive
Acknowledge others
Accept and give praise
Apologize earnestly
Assert yourself
Take responsibility
Accept and give constructive criticism
Refrain from idle complaints
Be a considerate guest

Works for me. And from the looks of their website, it's working for the Howard County community too.

Then, closer to home, a collaboration between the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, the University of Mount Union's Ralph Regula Center for Public Service, and Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs called the Ohio Civility Project focuses on political discourse.  Daryl, Dan and I have each blogged about it over the last few months and are eager to watch it develop.

The most recent avalanche of earned media for the concept of civility derives from multiple rants enunciated by Rush Limbaugh - who would have thunk, eh? This particular set of rants targeted a 30 year old female law student who wanted to testify on Capitol Hill about why contraception should be covered by health care insurance. Suffice it to say that Limbaugh's behavior in this instance has been deemed so uncivil by so broad a swath of Americans that nearly 50 advertisers (and I've seen some counts as high as 80 or more) including AOL, LegalZoom, ProFlowers and Cleveland's own Quicken Loans no longer support the show. And of course, coverage of people with the money, standing up to say that they don't want their money supporting someone who expresses thoughts the way Limbaugh does, is another boost to the idea that we do value civility.

But wait! There's more. 

That law student? She happens to attend the law school of the very Catholic university, Georgetown. And the current president of said Catholic university, Jack DeGioia, decided to weigh in on the lack of civility in Limbaugh's picking on the university's student. It is this statement by DeGioia that many now point to as the platinum standard for a response to uncivil discourse. 

DeGioia not only defends the student's right to make known her opinions but goes on to say, "She was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction.  She provided a model of civil discourse.  This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people."

Then, after writing passionately about the American need to rely on civil discourse in order to reach resolutions that balance different perspectives, he writes:

...As Americans, we accept that the only answer to our differences is further engagement. 

In an earlier time, St. Augustine captured the sense of what is required in civil discourse: "Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance.  Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth.  Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us.  For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed."

If we, instead, allow coarseness, anger – even hatred – to stand for civil discourse in America, we violate the sacred trust that has been handed down through the generations beginning with our Founders.  The values that hold us together as a people require nothing less than eternal vigilance.  This is our moment to stand for the values of civility in our engagement with one another. [emphasis added]

I mean, seriously - is there any better earned media for the cause of civility than that statement? 

Jon Meacham of TIME magazine agreed, via his column from last week, "The New Sermon on the Mount? Why Georgetown's president John DeGioia is a model for all people of faith." (More good, earned media for civility!)

[Full disclosure: Georgetown is my alma mater, President DeGioia graduated from my high school a few years before me and he even happened to have been my resident director during my sophomore year when I actually needed an RD to help me out with some housing issues. But I couldn't be more proud and I'm also finally getting why I had to read St. Augustine so many times, between my theology and philosophy pre-requisites, political science theory classes and probably a few others I don't recall.]

Overall, an incredibly solid run of earned media for civility, capped off this weekend with an entire segment on Meet the Press that focused on "...the question of where civility has gone in our public discourse, in our political discourse, in the campaign and in Congress." 

I get to try my hand at civility in less than two weeks when I participate in the Bliss Institute's Campaign Battleground class and speak about social media in political campaigns - certainly not known right now as a bastion of civil discourse.

But one can hope - one can absolutely hope and try to encourage it nevertheless!

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Copyright © 2012 Jill Miller Zimon; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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