Incivility matters, so let's fix it

Incivility matters, so let's fix it

Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 16, 2012

We're collecting feedback on the civility standards and the questions we're using to apply them to public statements and behavior. There are two ways you can participate. Firstly, by telling us what you think of the standards, and if you think they can make a difference. Secondly, you can tell us if there are public statements you'd like to run through the Civility Index.

Participants (29) See All

What do you think?

Anonymous
on 2014-04-17T03:49:10+00:00
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Recent Activity

Steve Tucker
on Nov 27, 2012
"Interesting comments. This past summer I manned a fair booth next to a young conservative..."
Hama Bbela
on Nov 19, 2012
"I think that civil conversation despite taking place in a civil setting, still needs peoples..."
Matt Leighninger
on Nov 08, 2012
"Hi Dave - Most official public meetings are examples of this - if you want to contribute at all,..."
Dave Scott
on Sep 22, 2012
"Hi Matt. Could you give me some examples of what you mean?"
Dan Moulthrop
on Sep 20, 2012
"Matt, I like how you frame that. I think you're probably right, but it's aasset of factors and..."
Matt Leighninger
on Sep 19, 2012
"Dan, standards for personal behavior are fine, but I think a big part of the problem is that most..."
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 17, 2012
"Jill, You have touched on something that perhaps ought to be added to the civility metric:  Do..."
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 17, 2012
"Sometimes the choice of words create barriers between us, and prevent the truth from being heard...."
Jill Miller Zimon
on Sep 16, 2012
"I've been known to say on multiple occasions that one downside to how civility may be defined or..."
Randall Frye
on Sep 16, 2012
"I apologize for going off point... public statements should, of course, not be inundated with..."
Randall Frye
on Sep 16, 2012
"My... so many words... they aren't all that we have... words... we have each other and no matter..."
Randall Frye
on Sep 16, 2012
"Precisely what I meant... I should have said that truth is more important than civility... my..."
Bill Lyons
on Sep 16, 2012
"Randall-- Thanks for your post.  I sometimes wonder (and if this is not what you meant, I..."
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 15, 2012
"You are asking good questions.  I have spent a fair amount of time talking about these questions,..."
Jill Miller Zimon
on Sep 15, 2012
"Randall - in my experience, four letter words seem best used to emphasize or punctuate a..."
Randall Frye
on Sep 15, 2012
"I fear that the concern for incivility will over shadow the issue and take focus. Much of this is..."
Ruby Varghese
on Sep 12, 2012
"When we engage in a civil conversation,let it be pleasant to all people whether they support or..."
Bill Lyons
on Sep 08, 2012
"Thanks Dan and Nancy.  This seems smart to me, but I be reading too much into one image.  "
Dan Moulthrop
on Sep 07, 2012
"Bill--it's done! "
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 07, 2012
"It was replaced yesterday.  If you are still seeing the old one at the top of your conversation,..."
Bill Lyons
on Sep 07, 2012
"Thanks for clarifyng the source of the picture.  But since it clearly looks like the..."
Dan Moulthrop
on Sep 06, 2012
"Bill--sorry to not have responded sooner. The fact that I missed your suggestion over the holiday..."
Bill Lyons
on Sep 05, 2012
"Dan-- Have you made a decision not to remove a picture that clearly sends, however,..."
Bill Lyons
on Sep 01, 2012
"How about this image?"
Bill Lyons
on Aug 31, 2012
"Thanks Dan.  I do not have a replacement image in mind.  If you would like a suggestion, I could..."
Bill Lyons
on Aug 31, 2012
"Thanks Nancy.  Not sure I have a topic worthy of a new conversation, but I will keep that option..."
Brant Lee
on Aug 30, 2012
"I've been browsing through these comments--lots of thoughtful, constructive ideas here. I just..."
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 30, 2012
"Just to close the conversational loop:  Dan Moulthrop (the person who started the conversation -..."
Dan Moulthrop
on Aug 30, 2012
"Bill, the image was from an event this summer in Parma, Ohio, but you may be right--a change..."
Jill Miller Zimon
on Aug 30, 2012
"Hi Bill - i'm seeing this now for the first time and will tickle Dan and Jason - thanks."
Steve Tucker
on Nov 27, 2012 - 5:24 pm

Interesting comments.

This past summer I manned a fair booth next to a young conservative womens group.  I was impressed by the quite frank but very civil discussion between the group members and fairgoers.  Some were spoiling for a fight but most people made their arguements in a civil manner.

We've entered a period where the majority seem to prefer, and respond to, a "gloves off" approach toward discourse.  As long as this approach appears to be effective it will continue.  So, if we truly want a return to civility we need to reward it.

 
Ruby Varghese
on Sep 12, 2012 - 2:07 am

When we engage in a civil conversation,let it be pleasant to all people whether they support or oppose it.Do not deliberately add views that will make a situation worse or will make other people uncomfortable.Civic discussion should always be a means to promote harmony peace ,even if we meet stiff resistence to our opinion.

 

Responses(1)

Hama Bbela
on Nov 19, 2012

I think that civil conversation despite taking place in a civil setting, still needs peoples passions to be evident. Meaning a bit of contradiction and some serious back and forth will fuel the most heated discussions. We cannot afford to always placate each other when we are trying to have conversations that we all have a serious stake in. Sometimes these passions may make us uncivil and maybe anger some people. I think this is good becuase  the civil forum is also a place were people can vent their frustrations. Dealing with government and its snail like response to peoples issues is always likely to build cynical attitudes in people and these attitudes are really what spur on uncivility during debates.Heated debates are also important   again they allow us to see all sides of the situation from the most obvious to the most far fetched.

 

 
Expand This Thread
Brant Lee
on Aug 30, 2012 - 1:19 pm

I've been browsing through these comments--lots of thoughtful, constructive ideas here. I just want to throw out a suggestion that civility requires remembering to focus not only on the style or tone of communication, but also on the basis for wanting to communicate in the first place. When I am on my best behavior--with my in-laws, perhaps, or with former students whose political views are very different from mine--the reason I make the effort is because there is a relationship that I value and which I want to maintain. At one level, that sometimes means avoiding prickly subjects completely. But that's detente, not really interpersonal engagement at all. 

At a deeper level, my best conversations happen when I approach it asking myself why someone that I love and respect, who is intelligent and authentic, would hold beliefs so diametrically opposed to my own. Assuming good faith even when it may seem apparent that it does not exist goes a long way toward creating an environment in which real issues can be explored. 

Both in the electoral context and in the broader society, many people seem to have decided that they don't really care about maintaining relationships. It's all or nothing, a fundamental clash of values, and bipartisan means everyone doing it my way. It's no surprise that civility is a casualty when actual or metaphorical violence is being contemplated.

I appreciate the focus on particular methods of communication that would improve the situation. I suspect that we are each skillful at different ways to make a discussion more civil. For me, focusing on being in relationship rather than any particular tool or rule is the key. I would love to see a political debate in which the moderator's focus was on asking the candidates what solutions they could come up with together. 

 
Jonathan Murray
on Jul 30, 2012 - 4:17 pm

Three thoughts: 1. Developing rules for somebody's idea of what is civil is a bit of a thought police approach, and runs contrary to the First Amendment. The Founders and their colleagues were often uncivil. Incivility, it appears, is part of the human condition. 2. Our current President is decidedly uncivil. If you want civility, you need a better example at the top. How about sending these standards to him and asking him to take a pledge to follow them? You could choose both candidates, if you want to be even, but Mitt Romney is already pretty civil. 3. American culture has become pretty degraded with the embrace of vulgarity, blatant sexuality, selfishness, irreverence, rudeness--you expect to change that with a few rules for civil debate? Good luck.

 

Responses(25)

Nancy Reeves
on Jul 31, 2012

Your perception that Barack Obama is uncivil and Mitt Romney is civil is interesting.  There was a fascinating study done on Civility in America which suggests that perceptions of civility are very partisan.  Overall, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are rated as uncivil by 33% and 39%, respectively and rated civil by 59% and 48% respectively, but when the ratings are separated by political affiliation, the incivility rating by members of the opposing political party are 60% and 55% respectively.

But it is a problem that so many people, regardless of political affiliation, perceive either of the people most likely to be our next president as uncivil.

Rather than throw my hands up and put earplugs in (as the same study suggests is happening as a result of the level of incivility), I would rather try to do something about it.  I don't think the problem can be solved by looking to politicians as role models - I think we need to stop engaging in bad behavior ourselves, and to stop rewarding bad behavior in others.I am not naive enough to think that a few rules for civil debate will fix all of that.  I do think they can be a useful tool to start with, particularly if there is wide agreement on what is or is not civil and the rating is done by a body which is perceived as neutral.  That will give each of us a relatively neutral way of holding ourselves and our own affiliates accountable.  That is not the same as the government imposing restrictions (which would be the first amendment issue you note), or the other side using incivility as a battering ram (which another sour note to the tone of the discussion).

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 01, 2012

Very thoughtful and productive, Nancy.  First, grounding in a good study helps a lot.  One threat to civility resides in how easily we conflate our individual perception (or the views of our party or race or gender or era) with the truth...and speak without enough humility or respect for the others who will bring alternative perspectives to the same question. 

Not sure a code can address this, but strong support for education might be a start...seems what is needed is a cultural shift toward rejecting public statements that are contrary to the best available data, thought in this case there is lots of gray area, as you point out, so that same standard would expect differences to be worked out or clarified based on the best available data...as a starting point...as you did.

Second, since most of the most blatant incivility (so far) in the presidential campaign comes from putatively unaffiliated superpacs I wonder if a code that explicitly prohibits us from challenging the motives of a speaker will advance civility?  In other words, the level of civility for the two candidates may not be the best question, at least not this year.

When a surrogate like Trump uses his high profile status to spread clearly false accusations (about the president's birth certificate) isn't the important question here...what is his motivation?

Why would he want to use his influence and power to misinform citizens?  Would we not advance incivility--encouraging more like him to do the same--by failing to challenge his motives...since simply challening the factual accuracy has already been done, over and over again, and has not slowed his ongoing efforts to misinform citizens?

It is possible that I am completely off base here, but given your thoughtful comments throughout this forum, I wondered what you thought?   Thanks, Bill

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 02, 2012

I believe you are correct about the use of surrogates.  They are far more likely to be uncivil than the individual they are supporting.  Unfortunately, I think that is part of their reason for existence - they can say some really nasty things, and if they backfire the candidate can disavow any connection with them.  With the current state of the laws on campaign financing it is a messy problem to address.  These people and entities are only answerable to their funding sources who, mostly, want their money spent just the way it is being spent.It is an imperfect solution, but I would rate the surrogate's ads and statements and would encourage the candidate who is being supported to make it clear that such ads or statements are not welcome.  To be most effective, that encouragement should come from those who support the candidate.

As to individuals like Donald Trump, I am not sure what I would gain by knowing his motivation.  Using him as a concrete example of the problem, what do you suspect his motivation is?  How would confirming (or disproving) the motivation help me move the conversation away from disseminating (or believing) inaccurate information? Perhaps you can help me out there.

I do wonder whether people who make outrageously false statements really believe they are true.  I have been spending a fair amount of time challenging people who are on the same side of an issue as I am aboout the use of inaccurate "facts."  Folks on all sides of the political aisle love it when something outrageous about the other side crosses our threshhold.  It happens more with the internet than it did when most of us got our news via word of mouth (much slower dissemination rate) or newspapers which, mostly, spent a fair amount of time fact checking.  I caught myself recently about to pass on information which was inaccurate.  Fortunately, I have a habit of doing research and often including links to the source of the information.  This time I had half of the note written out before I went searching for the source (and I was in a hurry so I almost skipped that step).  Once started, with the easy transmission via the internet, these "facts" gain a life all their own and it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

I think an assessment of accuracy is an important component of a civility rating system (although I would probably keep it separate from the acctual rating).  Unfortunately, I still think there will still be people with good intentions who believe (and disseminate) factually inaccurate things because the internet has grown faster than most of us have been able to learn how to sort fact from fiction when we find it on the internet.

 
Jonathan Murray
on Aug 01, 2012

It's more than a perception, or even a bias. It's an observation. Obama attacks and demonizes his opponents and perceived enemies (often cartoon-like straw men) viciously and publicly. He is rude and insulting, as when he treated the Prime Minister of Israel badly by keeping him cooling his heels while he ate his dinner. He is harsh, critical and a rabble-rousing scold. I'm sure he feels justified in being that way, and you may agree with him, but he is uncivil.

 

From the sound of things, you probably haven't watched Mitt Romney speak much. He's perhaps not as captivating as Obama, but he doesn't demonize and vilify people who don't agree with him, and he doesn't wag his finger and scold us. He doesn't create straw men enemies and then demolish them. He doesn't rabble rouse. His tone of voice is mild and agreeable. You may not like him personally or agree with his views but he is civil.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 02, 2012

Jonathan--

You seem to be missing Nancy's point.  Your individual perception is inconsistent with the aggregate data...that is, the collected observations of many individuals analyzed in a controlled context to provide more reliable conclusions...and that study found that when you and I think we see bias, it is more likely our own bias is being mobilized.

That is one reason starting with good data is so important.  When liberals hear Romney they hear incivility; when conservatives hear Obama they hear incivility.  That is interesting and creates a real challenge to all of us interested in more civility.

 
Jonathan Murray
on Aug 04, 2012

Bill, I understood Nancy's point. I don't need data, though, to tell me what incivility looks like. I know it when I see it. Somebody who is rude and hectoring, preaching and moralizing, superior and arrogant, who creates straw men to demonize perceived opponents--that person is uncivil. A double-blind crossover controlled study which includes people who are predisposed to agree with the views of that person may result in data that point to confirmation bias, but so what? Uncivil is uncivil.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 05, 2012

No disagreement on the factors you list here, but not sure I can agree with rejecting the need for research because we already know the answer.  Notice, for instance, that your list is neither identical to the list crated by the moderators nor do you share their focus on labelling behaviors rather than individuals.  One of the most important tools we have when disagreements like this inevitably emerge is to move beyond what each of us think individually to see what we can learn from observing what many individuals think and say about the same questions.  I thought Nancy gave us a gift by sharing that study and helping us clarify both our individual thinking and our conversation.  But that is clearly just one man's perspective and may be my own bias.  Thanks for pushing me to clarify my own thinking on this. 

 
Jonathan Murray
on Aug 06, 2012

"We need more research" is the perpetual cry of the sidelines-sitting observers in life. Research has its value, and its place. What we need more than research, though, is people who are willing to say to somebody who is being rude, "you do not have my permission to talk to me that way." What research will tell you, though, is that 98% of people are uncomfortable saying something like that, because most people prefer to avoid confrontation. This is how bullies get their way. 

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 07, 2012

You are no doubt correct that many academics fail to engage.  This is a challenge that myself, and others, are constantly taking up, to try to encourage colleagues to engage with the most pressing issues of our day. 

 
Jonathan Murray
on Aug 10, 2012

I'm not sure that I want academics to engage. When they do, it often involves going to Washington to take up some position of power from which they design social engineering experiments with the American people as guinea pigs. I generally prefer the collective wisdom of the masses--organized into markets--then the theories of academics.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 12, 2012

So Jonathan,

How's that search for "two or three links to videos where you believe President Obama engages in uncivil speech." comning?

Jeff

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 09, 2012

I apologize for the delayed response.  I have been trying to sort through how to respond in a manner that might be helpful.

You described your characterization as "It's more than a perception, or even a bias. It's an observation," as if your observations are not influenced by the lens through which you are making them.  I do not believe that is the case - for any of us.  All of us are biased in our observations, and all of us perceive and describe things, at least in part influenced by our own view of the world.  The best of us, who really work at it all the time, are perceived as relatively neutral.  But even though I am regularly praised for acting in a neutral manner when I take on certain roles, I am painfully aware of how far short I fall.  The study I linked to showed, in part, just how biased each of our own individual observations are when merely tallied together.

When the observations of Democratic voters are tallied together, Mitt Romney looks uncivil to 55% of the people polled.  When the observations of all the Republican voters are tallied together, they mostly agree with your observations -  Barack Obama looks uncivil to 60% of those polled. 

It isn't really that more research that is needed to evaluate whether incivility is present - but what the research does show is that at least when the question is asked without something against which to measure our observations, the response is highly influenced by whether we agree with the person being observed.

What this project is trying to do is to give us that measuring tool so we're all on the same page about what we mean when we label something uncivil - and I expect that varies significantly based on our own lens as well.  There was a conversation yesterday on Dan's Facebook wall in which someone who was sincerely trying to be civil was perceived as "crazy" by someone who apparently viewed the efforts to be civil in a negative way.

Having a basic set of guidelines makes our individual lenses a bit more uniform, but personal bias is still a factor.  I'm not personally adept enough at setting my own biases aside to be completely neutral, so it is always helpful to me to check my observations against those of people who have a different opinion than I do - which is the point of having a well respected balanced panel apply the guidelines. 

 
Peter Comings
on Aug 09, 2012

"I'm not personally adept enough at setting my own biases aside to be completely neutral, so it is always helpful to me to check my observations against those of people who have a different opinion than I do - which is the point of having a well respected balanced panel apply the guidelines."

Could it be that those actions, rather than the guidelines themselves, are really what civility is all about?

 
Daryl Rowland
on Aug 09, 2012

Yes, Peter. Great point.  Testing your views honestly by entertaining the objections of your percieved adversaries is really the trick to developing a thoughtful point of view. I think this is a fundamental value that is sadly not taught in primary schools. Could this be the silver rule?" Not quite golden, but beautiful and of great worth.

 
Peter Comings
on Aug 09, 2012

Happy to piggyback Nancy's idea.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Peter,Indeed.Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Nancy,Well said.Conversation in civil company is a skill.The first threshold, I believe, is recognizing that you may be wrong.The second threshold is stop keeping score.None of us come to either naturally.JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Jonathan Murray
on Aug 10, 2012

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Nancy. I guess for me it's not so complicated: I can separate the message that is being delivered from the way it is  being delivered pretty easily. I find myself reasonably frequently, in private life, saying some version of the following,"Bill, I respect you and your opinions and I want to receive the message you are sending, but the way you are communicating makes it impossible for me to receive your message, and I know you want me to." The short version is "could you change your tone of voice?"

So, yes, it is clear that people from the left who disagree automatically with anything that is not from the left will consider Mitt Romney to be uncivil. That is not Mitt Romney's fault.

Alternatively, however, putting aside the content of the message, Barack Obama is decidely uncivil much of the time. Any objective observer, putting aside the message being delivered, should be able to come to that conclusion.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 10, 2012

Good morning Jonathan,

That's true. You're absolutely correct. Tone is always critical. Please allow me to say that I hear your's coming through loud and clear.

"...it's not so complicated..." "Nancy, you are an idiot.""people from the left who disagree automatically..." "people on the left are idiots.""That is not Mitt Romney's fault..." "I agree with Willard Mitt Romney therefore anyone who thinks Mitt Romney is uncivil is an idiot.""Any objective observer..." "Anyone who doesn't think that President Barack Hussein Obama is uncivil most of the time is not objective and also an idiot."I'm willing to grant that in all four examples you believe that what I'm hearing (reading in this case) is not what you're saying (writing) but I think we could begin again if you would implement a bit of your own advice and "change the tone of your voice."I might suggest that you give us two or three links to videos where you believe President Obama engages in uncivil speech. Since you believe that to be his normal mode of conversation, finding two or three examples should be simple, yes?

(And for the record, I've not found Willard Mitt Romney's speeches to be uncivil.)Do all you can to make today a good day.JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 10, 2012

I am struggling to respond costructively to your certainty that your observations are untainted by the lens through which you view the world at the same time you assert that those who view Barack Obama as civil are inherently biased ("Any objective observer, putting aside the message being delivered, should be able to come to that conclusion (that Barack Obama is decidedly uncivil much of the time).")

How would you suggest we move toward civility if each side continues to insist that that it is objective in its observations that its candidate is behaving well and that, if only the other side were objective, it would agree that its candidate was behaving badly?

 

 

 

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 13, 2012

It takes disciplined and sincere self-inspection to see one's own biases and not everyone is very good or very well trained at it (see my previous post regarding professional education for journalists). To read more I suggest "Thinking Fast and Slow." It's not directly about journalism but has a lot to say about how we form biases.

 
Daryl Rowland
on Aug 13, 2012

Yes, it would seem we need a greater balance between Kahneman's System 1 and System 2. When we are not being chased by a hungry mountain lion, we should seize the luxury of analytical thought. 

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 13, 2012

Dave,I think that if we can begin with the premise that we have biases, that those biases are the cumulative result of our having lived to the present day and that our particular biases are different from those with whom we have not shared exactly the same life experiences, then we have the framework for conversation.Imagine a conversation between two individuals who both agree that murder is bad yet take opposing views on the rightness of Roe v. Wade. Can they have a conversation? Where must such a conversation begin? Do they first attempt to find a definition of murder that they both can accept? Do they agree that murder is bad, but that not all life has equal value? I don't know, but those are just two of the many questions that must be answered before the greater question can be addressed.Each of us at some point in our lives must go through the exercise of discovering what we believe to be true and then prepare ourselves for the possibility that all of what we believe is false. If I am not prepared to have my truths challenged, then conversation is not possible and we are left with debate and pontification.Jeff

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 19, 2012

"If I am not prepared to have my truths challenged, then conversation is not possible and we are left with debate and pontification." 

Powerful insight, very difficult real world challenge. 

The prepared part in this quote, in my view, speaks to an attitude we need to bring to our interactions with others. 

It seems it is a precondition for transforming a likely-to-be-divisive-discussion/pontification into a possibility-of-achieving-agreement-deliberation/conversation.

I would call that precondition, that attitude...and open mind (and open heart), but it might be better called compassionate listening, as you note in another thread on this page. 

Other than role modelling the behavior that follows from bringing this attitude to our interactions...how can we teach this?  Can a civility code provide a set of structural conditions that make it more likely that this will be the attitude more participants bring...as one way to teach this?

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 19, 2012

Bill,

I think you just did an excellent job of teaching the point on one foot.

From there it is a matter of being the change we wish to see.

Jeff

 
Expand This Thread
Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 25, 2012 - 10:43 am

A question regarding the standards and the index: As we've been testing them out, it's clear to me that they work best when assessing incivility, rather than civility. In other words, the questions and standards are framed around negative behaviors, rather than the kind of behavior we want to see. Do you have suggestions about how we might revise the standards and questions to allow for assessing both positive and negative behaviors and speech?

 

Responses(8)

Dave Scott
on Jul 26, 2012

Positive and negative standards are possible and positive standards might be received better. In the Beacon Journal's focus group last night there was some concern about the standards being too controlling. I'm sure nobody wants to be accused being a scold -- a form of incivility itself!

 
Daryl Rowland
on Jul 29, 2012

Yes.  And offering politicians and their surrogates an opportunity to garner publicity and praise for their civility may yield better results.  Rewards are often more effective than punishment.

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 26, 2012

Good afternoon Dan,

I see where a disnction can be made -- "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" vs. "do not do to others that which is hateful to you" -- but I'm all for taking the positive route.

I've been reading a lot lately about the Boy Scouts and how the Scout Law -- a scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful... &c. -- is understood. The 12-points are all postive (a scout is rather than a scout is not) and I think that works, but at the same time, unless you understand the flip-side, you have a less clear concept of the direction you're headed.

Having said that, I do not think that politely saying someone is full of s**t is in anyway civil and that is the distinction I really want to be able to make.

Do all you can to make today a good day,

JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
David Goodman
on Aug 21, 2012

We focus on the perpetrators of incivility, perhaps to the exclusion of the objects or victims of it. One way we might help diminish incivility is by providing guidance to those  at whom it is directed. When I am in a discussion with someone who has become overbearing, dismissive, patronizing or just plain offensive, I struggle to control my own impulse to respond in kind and instead to find a way to extricate myself from the conversation and let my counterpart know that I'm doing so because he is not engaging  in civil discourse and that there is little value in continuing the conversation.  When I myself am the one showing those characteristics, my better self would be glad if the person to whom I am speaking had the means of sending me that message. Guidance on effective ways of doing so might be even more potent means of overcoming incivility than rules against it.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 22, 2012

Good thoughts.  One place to start might be the Alternatives to Violence curriculum.  It has been years since I was involved with them, but one of the primary goals of the project is to teach the non-violent skills needed to respond to conflicts (ranging from verbal to physical).

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 23, 2012

Agreed with David and Nancy.  Another place to look:  KSU has a good conflict management program and so does UA.  One of the best books ever written on this, in my view, is Getting to Yes.  We might also check out Gandhi's Way: A Handbook for Conflict Resolution or Crucial Conversations.  Fr. Norm and Larry at Heart2Heart Communications, among others including myself, would also recommend looking at material in the Appreciative Inquiry tradition out of Case. 

But as Jeff on this thread and others have noted...the key is to practice, to be the change, to live in a way that makes what is problematic disappear (Wittgenstein).  The conversations on this web page are one way to practice.  Figuring out how to take the attitudes (see ABJ article on 'Love thy neighbor as thyself') we nurture on Sunday into our daily lives on Monday is another way.  As grown ups, hopefully we are also modeling these skills for our children and students and peers.  Not sure we are always, or (in some cases) ever, successful at that part.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 23, 2012

Your points are good ones, but a gentle reminder that there are faith traditions for which Sunday is no more significant than Monday - and that there are many good people who do not participate in organized religion (or any religion at all, for that matter).One of the practices I find useful in inviting, rather than shutting down, conversations across cultural boundaries is to speak in the first person singular when I am talking about how faith impacts my life.  That invites others to share from their first person singular perspective without feeling the need to start by disclaiming anything I have inadvertently suggested applies to them.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 24, 2012

Fair points.  My practice is not to personalize references to religion in public discourse, for reasons similar to your reasons not to use a royal we.  My practice is to embed references to religious communities within a larger list of alternatives, as I did here, apparently without success! 

Not perfect, but to me this is one way to bring secular and sacred traditions together into one conversation without privileging one or alienating another.  And here it suggests, to me at least, that the approaches taken by any of a number religious communities ought to be included as part of our civility conversation (using the 'Sunday-to-Monday' figure of speech the same way one might use 'faith traditions' or 'organized religion,' even though not all spiritual communities identify with that language...but I had not seen how that language might become a barrier). 

Thanks for explaining your approach.  Something to think about.

 
Expand This Thread
Stuart C Mendel
on Jul 25, 2012 - 8:34 am

As I read through these comments, I'm realizing that the need for civility in our public discourse involves both the people who engage directly in the issues - legislators for example - to allow one another the metaphorical time and space to express their viewpoints, but also their aides, strategists, and the press.  I know from my own experiences and behavior for that matter, that it is really difficult to not interrupt others when they are making a point.  Or trying to make a point.  I some times must literally put my hand over my mouth as a way to police myself.  I have become aware of this for two reasons:  first, even if I make my case and prevent others from arguing against it, no matter how silly I think their point of view, in shouting them down, I have not one them over and in the end, worked against my own argument.  Second, the next time I need them to work with me on some issue, I find reticence or worse, sabotage.  It has taken me a long time to learn this.  So, I guess I am saying indirectly that this discussion about civility and incivility is really about self awareness..

 

Responses(1)

David Goodman
on Aug 15, 2012

Stuart: apropos of those thoughts, here's a quote from Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to aCompassionate Life: "Perhaps it would be better to take a leaf out of the Buddha’s book and start from where people actually are rather than where we think they ought to be. In such public debates, instead of trying to bludgeon other people into accepting our own point of view, we may need to find a way of posing Socratic questions that lead to personal insight rather than simply repeating the facts as we see them yet again."

 
Expand This Thread
Kathryn Hanratty
on Jul 16, 2012 - 5:37 pm

I think that another point in civil discourse is Non-verbal... I recently attended some public forums and Statehouse hearings the ey-rolling and obvious disregard of the citizens who testified by a few of the Reps and Senators was extremely discouraging. It was noticed by those who testified and also by those in the audience.

 

Responses(15)

Jeff Hess
on Jul 20, 2012

Good Morning Kathryn,I think your insight is helpful.

If we dismiss other's views with our very bodies, how can we expect to ever reach understanding?Do all you can to make today a good day,JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Jim McHugh
on Jul 20, 2012

Similar problems in this area include techniques that are used by people for the purpose of simply winning a confrontation, rather than engaging in an actual debate.  These devices include the "straw man" technique of compelling another person to respond to a ridiculous proposition or pursuing a "red herring" line of argument.  The purpose of such techniques is not to add to a real discourse but simply to disengage the other side in some manner by rattling them, angering them, or disrupting their train of thought.

Formal debates, in which each side is allowed to respond to a proposition for a determined period of time without interruption, are the antithesis of this approach.  The so-called "debates" of the typical American political campaign are mere "gotcha" sessions by comparison.  Therefore, one way to encourage civility may be for the media to encourage true debates with traditional rules and structures such as debating clubs (like the ones at Oxford and Cambridge) employ.  They may not have as many "fireworks" or opportunities for gaffes but it should elevate the tone and intelligence of the process.

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 21, 2012

Good Morning Jim,

Is it possible that you're melding debate and conversation here?

Debate is all about the win. Whether you play by debate/forensic or street rules is a matter of choice, but the win remains paramount.

Conversation, however, is focused on increasing understanding, on teasing out precisely what each party understands and first seeking mutual agreement on what is true (not generally an easy activity) and then exploring areas where each party can rethink, modify and learn their own appreciation of the ideas and questions surrounding that topic.

My standard opening at our monthly Socrates Café is that the purpose of the discussion is not to reach any conclusions, but rather to invest 90 minutes in exploring the participants' thinking on the question for the evening, to consider how that thinking differs from your own and learn from the experience.

In that vein, I am following this conversation because I want to know why people believe incivility exists, whether or not incivility is wrong and, perhaps most importantly, what might be the societal results of eliminating incivility.

Do all you can to make today a good day,

JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Kathryn Hanratty
on Jul 21, 2012

Good Afternoon Jeff,

Thank you for bringing up such thought provoking questions.

I believe that civility is an exercise in restraint. It takes a bit of time and thought to frame a civil response. I think that much of the incivility we see is a product of the pace of our society. But I also think it goes deeper than that, it is also a by-product of our increasing polarization. Incivility shows disrespect for the person or group that is being addressed. So often it is difficult to see the human who deserves your respect when looking at someone espousing opinions disagreeable to you. I frequently have a real struggle to be civil. Sometimes I fail. That is how I know that incivility is wrong. When I fail to be civil, my conscience bothers me.

 I think that eliminating incivility may have a side benefit of slowing our pace a bit. It could also help to reduce some of our polarization. Taking the time to think- to frame a statement in a way that respects the person on the other side may also cause us to see that person as a human deserving of respect.

I hope that you are enjoying this lovely day!

Kathy

 

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 22, 2012

Good afternoon Kathy,

I very much agree that conversation is a matter of restraint. If we don't restrain our inclination to make our point we can't listen.

An exercise that I've found helpful is to be mindful of whether or not I'm listening to what the other person is saying or if I'm planning my response.

The former results in a lot of dead air (bad if you're on radio or television as Dan will attest [note to self: ask Dan how he feels about dead air.]) as you thoughtfully wait for the other person to finish and then pause to consider what you've just heard and formulate your response. The latter results in a response that may not actually be cogent because you haven't heard what was said.

Mindful attentiveness is also, as you note, respectful of the other.

Do all you can to make today a good day,

JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 25, 2012

'morning, Jeff. Dead air can be bad, but in a public radio environment, when you've created expectations about civility, waiting a beat or two to be able to frame the next statement or question properly is ok. The host's challenge, though, is still to do that a bit faster than you would in an ordinary face to face conversation. But the key to all of it is close, attentive listening.  

 
Kathryn Hanratty
on Jul 21, 2012

I would like to see such debates become the norm.  It would be great to see the classic standards applied to all debate in congress and at all public hearings at the statehouse. Our elected officials who are meant to be leaders must behave civily to encourage civility.

 

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 21, 2012

Good Morning Jim,Is it possible that you're melding debate and conversation here?Debate is all about the win. Whether you play by debate/forensic or street rules is a matter of choice, but the win remains paramount.Conversation, however, is focused on increasing understanding, on teasing out precisely what each party understands and first seeking mutual agreement on what is true (not generally an easy activity) and then exploring areas where each party can rethink, modify and learn their own appreciation of the ideas and questions surrounding that topic.My standard opening at our monthly Socrates Café is that the purpose of the discussion is not to reach any conclusions, but rather to invest 90 minutes in exploring the participants thinking on the question for the evening, to consider how that thinking differs from your own and learn from the experience.In that vein, I following this conversation because I want to know why people believe incivility exists, whether or not incivility is wrong and, perhaps most importantly, what might be the societal results of eliminating incivility?Do all you can to make today a good day,JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Nancy Reeves
on Jul 22, 2012

Excellent points, Jeff!

One thing which is implicit in what you said is that when we move forward by conversations rather than debate (or voting), the direction we are moving is far less likely to be short circuited when the "other" side comes into power.  Solutions which are implemented by majority vote are always subject to reversal with the next debate or election; solutions implemented as a result of real conversations, not so much.

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 22, 2012

Good afternoon Nancy,

Thank you.

That’s true, you’re absolutely correct. Our present form of government is built on a majority rule/winner take all strategy and we leave the protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority to our courts. That often, but not always, results in a good outcome over time but can cause immediate harm.

Consensus is difficult to achieve and there are some topics – gun control and abortion rights come immediately to mind – where underlying assumptions (that government can/cannot be trusted in the former case and abortion is/is not murder in the latter) preclude any discussion.

Do all you can to make today a good day,

JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 03, 2012

In an era when political candidates offer less and less substantial interraction with the media and sometimes even demand AND GET approval for quotes, it might be a little too much to expect the media to demand anything, let alone more substantial debates. Personally, I would flatly refuse to allow quotes to be screened and face the consequences of possibly not getting the story, but obviously that is not a universal position. Anyway, it only demonstrates how toothless the media have become. I attribute much of that to the influx of wannabes who can call themselves journalists simply by setting up a website and venting their spleen.

 
Daryl Rowland
on Aug 05, 2012

Dave, I do think that trying to get mainstream media outlets to agree to certain rules of the road on a voluntary basis would be possible if not likely. Agreeing on standards for not trading access for quote approval would be an interesting start.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Dave,Quote approval is insidious and ruinous.Once quite prevalent in the trade press, it has stained the consumer press to no good end.Glenn Greenwald stood up recently because even grey lady admitted that she traded quote approval for access. When the New York Times stoops that low, we're all in trouble.We might as well reprint press releases.JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 09, 2012

I have mixed feelings about quote approval, because I have been misquoted frequently enough to know that quotes are not always accurate.  Typically, the overall sense of what I was trying to convey has been accurate - or close enough, but the words in quotation marks are not the ones I would ever have used because there are subtle differences in meaning in the specialized language of the subject being discussed, differences that would not necessarily be apparent to reporter trying diligently to capture a fast paced conversation without familiarity with the specialized language - or to a reader similarly unfamiliar.

It is a tricky line, but there ought to be a way to permit the speaker to verify the accuracy of a quote without impacting consent which had been previously given for the inclusion of the content.

 

 

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Nancy,It's awkward, but if I'm being interviewed for broadcast or publication, I place my tape recorder on the table before I open my mouth. I find that the mere presence of the spinning tape does wonders for accuracy.Jeff

 
Expand This Thread
Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 16, 2012 - 1:39 pm

Here's a second thread I want to open up here:

What recent statements or behaviors would you like to see run through the Civility Index? Add links below, and the Civility Index team will follow up.

 

Responses(27)

Dave Scott
on Jul 20, 2012

Obviously, some of the political TV ads need scrutiny but that will create a couple of problems. First, any criticism will be viewed as political, so you might seek to be even handed with multiple sides and that would have problems. Then you have the free speech issues. It seems clear that uncivil speech is protected, so what are you going to do about it.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Jul 20, 2012

There is a difference between government censorship (which would be unconstitutional if applied to uncivil speech) and creating a climate in which uncivil speech is perceived as negative (rather than the current climate in which it is perceived as either a necessary evil, or actually a good thing).A tool that is routinely applied in an even handed manner (as the fact check tools are increasingly applied) would be a good start.  An initial challenge, as you point out,  will be convincing the public that it is not political.  Rather than trying to equally target ads from both parties, I would focus on creating a panel of politically diverse people who are trusted by members of both major parties to be unbiased in using the tool.

Beyond that, the owners of the ads should be routinely made aware of the civility rating - not only by the rating panel, but by supporters of the candidate or issue being promoted by the ad, along with praise for high civility ratings or a call to change strategies which employ advertisements with lower civility ratings.  I think it will be important to encourage these ratings to be used as a tool by supporters of a candidate or issue, rather than primarily as a weapon to be used by opponents (which might be a bit uncivil in and of itself).

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 25, 2012

Those are very strong ideas, Nancy. The need for diversity on the panel has been coming up again and again in our internal conversations. 

As we've begun testing the concept, we've been using not only ads but also public statements--sometimes things that are said in speeches or interviews, sometimes items that appear in print (in op-ed columns, for instance). 

 
Daryl Rowland
on Jul 21, 2012

You’re right, Dave, nasty, fact-free ads play a major role in setting a tone of incivility. This is, to a great degree, inevitable because TV ads are traditionally built to play on emotion rather than reason.

No candidate wants to pay for time to lay out fine points of public policy. We can pressure political campaigns to watch their facts and not be wildly misleading, but ads, like pop music, will always be aimed at the heart. I think that media going after both sides of the aisle with equal rigor can get beyond accusations of political bias by remaining truly even-handed over time. As for free speech issues, we are talking about scrutiny and pressure not legislation or coercion, so there is no real conflict.

The biggest problem, however, is that ads can deliver a high level of frequency that commentators and bloggers cannot. For every moment of tough analysis, there are hundreds of repetitions of an ad itself. So in terms of impact, the misleading ad always wins. Dave, do you think there any way to tilt the scales for greater balance?

 
Dave Scott
on Jul 26, 2012

Many political observers will say they personally despise attack ads, but sigh and say they are effective. Personally, I consider that an open question that could change with public education. And while we might be inclined to blame the politicians, the public has a responsibility, too, because they are not demanding more civil conduct and rejecting the negative ads.

 
Daryl Rowland
on Jul 29, 2012

Dave, you've hit on something that's key to improving the situation and offers a productive avenue for forward motion: public education.  I think the old fashioned "civics" lessons that were once a part of primary school education need to be updated for the digital age and brought back to the center of our school programs. 

 

Not to belittle the current emphasis and math and science, but turning out young adults who have a love for and an understanding of civics is at least as important as demanding a mastery of algebra. 

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 03, 2012

I saw your essay elsewhere on this forum about negative ads. I'm hopeful the readers of this forum will appreciate the tenor in which you expressed it, but I doubt that would work in the newspaper!

 
Daryl Rowland
on Aug 03, 2012

I hope that my tone was understood, too.  But the serious point I hoped to make is that shaming people into better behavior is the best avenue for improving civility in a free society.  Any form of censorship or legislation is likely to be a blunt instrument that causes as much or more harm than good.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 03, 2012

While I agree that legislation and government censorship are not the answer, I don't think shaming people into better behavior is either.  Particularly when I am addressing someone with a viewpoint different from my own, I find approaching it in a negative way just leads to defensiveness or counter finger pointing.

Mostly I try to improve the tone of folks with similar viewpoints to mine by education (sometimes they really don't know that what they are saying is offensive), or by appealing to their better judgment.  More recently, I had a small success with someone with an opposing viewpoint who was disseminating false information.  He was passionate aobut, and focused on, the message, but was using information that was easily proven to be false.  I suggested that to him, without making any comment on the message.  His initial reaction was defensive, but once I reassured him that I was not attacking his message (and even found small pieces of it I could unite with), he was able to see that I was correct about the information - and he has said he will not be using it again.

I see that as a step in the right direction, because any discussion we have on the issue will now be grounded in our shared value of integrity. (I don't know that we will have discussions on this issue - but this exchange will make them very different discussions should the occasion arise.)  I don't think we would have reached the same place had I set out to shame him into using more accurate material.

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 06, 2012

I agree Nancy. I know from my own experience that I am capable of hurting feelings without even knowing it. I think your attitude is helpful when, instead of being outraged by the slight, you simply explain it. But reality is that some people deliberately offend, saying things to hurt. Those people are at the sweet spot of this discussion and where the most progress can be made. I think if they actually knew the people they are hurting and saw the reaction, their humanity might kick in and effect changes.

 
Daryl Rowland
on Aug 09, 2012

Dave and Nancy, thanks for your comments. I agree with both of you that "shame" in the sense of humiliating or aggressively embarrassing people is not the most productive avenue for change. But I was using "shame" to mean pointing out the absurdity of dueling negative campaigns that diminish everyone involved. I think, on occassion, satire can actually be a more civil way to point out illogical, inconsitant or ineffective thought.   

 
David Goodman
on Aug 14, 2012

In May, Gov. Romney published an op-ed piece in which he made a statement that I found to be uncivil in an especially insidious way: "Mr. President, forgive me for being blunt, but when it comes to economic affairs, you're out of your depth." It was disingenous ("forgive me"), disrespectful, and gratuitously insulting.  The ad hominem argument adds incivility to illogic.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 15, 2012

Good morning David,

Welcome to the conversation.

Gov. Romney's core message was that President Obama's economic policies are bad.

If you were a writer working for Gov. Romney, how would have suggested he phrase that statement with civility?

Do all you can to make today a good day,

Jeff

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 15, 2012

Discussing the the ideas Romney perceives as bad, and pointing out what he perceives to be flaws in the ideas, rather than attributing flaws to the person who holds those ideas would be a good place to start.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 16, 2012

Nancy,I agree.  I'm not seeking the meta here but rather the precise: if you were Mr. Romney's writer, how would you have edited/recast/rewritten that sentence?Jeff

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 16, 2012

I am not sure that it is useful to slice the rhetoric that finely.

The sentence is probably the most identifiably condescending of the op ed piece, but the overall tone of the piece focuses on Barack Obama's character (as a dreamer, failure, inexperienced, a political opportunist) rather than any specifics about how he has governed.

So that particular sentence is just part of the tone of the entire piece, and rewriting it would not, in any significant way, change the tone of the piece.  I would either limit the piece to setting out specifics of his own policies - or to comparing policy to policy, not (as he does) describing (negatively) Barack Obama's character as a contrast to the policies he would implement.

 

 

 
David Goodman
on Aug 15, 2012

Jeff: I hope you would agree that it would be not just uncivil, but scurrilous for me to respond to your comment by saying, “Jeff, forgive me for being blunt, but when it comes to this discussion of civility, you're out of your depth.” The overall point of Gov. Romney's op-ed piece may have been that Pres. Obama's economic policies are bad, but that quoted statement totally lacks content and is nothing more than a gratuitous personal insult, and an insult not just to the President, but also to the office to which Gov. Romney aspires.  My test would be: is the insult anything more than that? If it is possible to be insulting and still be civil, the possibility would rest on the insult's being integral to some larger substantive argument. In this case, the insult was nothing more than an insult. Also, I think context matters. This was a written editorial, not an off-the-cuff comment in a heated debate or the voice-over in an attack ad. The context made the incivility of the statement even more egregious. If I had been his editor or advisor, I'd have told him just to delete the sentence.  It added nothing to his argument, and it diminished him as a person.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 16, 2012

Dave,That’s true, you absolutely correct. I was unclear. I was not defending Mr. Romney’s statement, but rather asking how you, as a writer, would have conveyed the message that Mr. Romney believes Mr. Obama’s economic policies are bad?Nancy begins to answer my question, but I’m really asking that we seek precise language and not a general approach. How would you rewrite Mr. Romney’s sentence in a civil manner?Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 16, 2012

Dave, Nancy, et al.,

Here is the link to the op-ed piece from the Plain Dealer.

Does the context of the entire piece change, in any way, your opinion of the particular sentence?

Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 16, 2012

Dave,Here's an example from my correspondence this morning.A politically savvy, and professionally engaged friend of mine wrote: Best way for barackobama to win is to incessantly mock mitt Romney. pretty sure this will work.As a statement of fact, I can't disagree with what my friend wrote. In the context of what we're are attempting here, however, I believe the statement goes to the core of our conversation.Is there a false dichotomoy here: be incivil and win or be civil and lose? Is all fair in love and war?Which is more important, winning or being civil? Is that even a proper question to ask?Jeff

 

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 16, 2012

Ultimately, if we do not figure out how to decrease the polarization in this country (which I see as inextricably linked with the incivility) we all lose.  But the perception is that being civil is a losing proposition, and that in order to win an election you have to put your opponent in his/her place.   Very similar to how most people view non-violent conflict resolution - violence (whether verbal or physical) is widely perceived as the way to get ahead.  Violence is, without much question, more expedient in the short term. In the long run, it only creates more violence and separation.  

Although I think there is widespread dissatisfaction with negative advertising, no one has come up with a proven non-violent way to run a campaign - and as far as the candidates go, no one is willing to (potentially) sacrifice their election for the principle of how elections should be run.  The moment polls seem to show that not responding in kind is making the candidate's numbers dip, the incivility ramps up.

I understand that urge toward self preservation.  It is the same internal wrestling I did with myself when I lived in the Cleveland School District and thought about sending my daughter (not yet born) to the Cleveland Schools.  I firmly believe in public schools, and that it is essential for the success of public schools for people with privilege to keep their children in the public school system - but was I willing to sacrifice my daughter to that principle?So, as an overarching principle, I believe the dichotomy is false.  But it may take commitment to a principle, rather than personal (or party) gain in order to get there.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 16, 2012

Nancy,Your example of the dilemma of a parent living in the Cleveland City Schools district struggling between progressive support of public schools and their child's welfare and education is spot on.In the long run we would think that we can change the school system, but we are rightly unwilling to subject our children to the interim situation.Political campaigning is much the same. Are we prepared to see our party lose election after election and suffer majority rule in Washington by the opposite party while the long, quite possibly multi-generational, process transforms our national dialogue?I voted third-party in 1996 and intend to do so from this election forward because I believe in that long-range change, but I already have friends brow beating me because I'm going to be responsible for the victory of the candidate they loathe.Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 16, 2012

David,

I picked up a requested book from the library this morning – Ken Bain’s What The Best College Students Do – and opened the book to page 77 where I found:“Myside Bias: People tend to think from their own perspective, something scientists call myside bias, or sometimes confirmation bias. If I gave statements by politicians who contradicted themselves, for example, research suggests you’d easily spot those hypocrites—as long as they come from a party you don’t support. When they come from your side of the political fence, however, you probably wouldn’t see the inconsistency at all.”

Intercourse with myside bias is debate, without myside bias is converation.

The former is decptively easy, the latter devilishly hard.

Jeff

 
David Goodman
on Aug 16, 2012

Jeff: I agree that my-side bias and the echo chamber habits fostered by the Intenet are major culprits.  Elsewhere on this topic, I posted this quote from Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, which I am currently reading: "Perhaps it would be better to take a leaf out of the Buddha’s book and start from where people actually are rather than where we think they ought to be. In such public debates, instead of trying to bludgeon other people into accepting our own point of view, we may need to find a way of posing Socratic questions that lead to personal insight rather than simply repeating the facts as we see them yet again."

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 17, 2012

David,I've read, enjoyed (and even own a few) of Armstrong's books and as someone who adheres greatly to the basic tenets of Buddhist philosophy, I agree with the core of her statement.The issue I would have with the larger statement is that the Socratic method is a debate/teaching technique rather than a conversation method. Socrates sought to reveal the flaws, as he saw them, in the reasoning of the person to whom he was asking his questions rather than seeking to understand that individual's point of view.When we ask penetrating questions crafted to elicit understanding we further not only our own apprehension but, and I know this from my own experiences with Socrates Café, the self-knowledge of the person to whom we put the question.Jeffp.s. and my apology for using  dave instead of david earlier. i was typing too quickly.

 
David Goodman
on Aug 18, 2012

Jeff: Armstrong views Socratic dialogue more positively, not in the sense of the “Socratic method” used in teaching law that involves the professor's ripping apart the student's statements and logic just for the sake of showing their flaws. She uses it as the model of dialogue aimed not at winning, but rather at deepening the knowledge of both participants. Accordingly, here is how she characterizes Plato's view of Socratic dialogue:

"Plato described the dialogue as a communal meditation that was hard work, requiring 'a great expense of time and trouble,' but like his master, he insisted that it be conducted in a kindly, compassionate manner. It would not bring transcendent insight unless 'questions and answers are exchanged in good faith and without malice.' Nobody must be pushed into a position about which he felt uncomfortable. Each participant should make a 'place for the other' in his mind, listening intently and sympathetically to the ideas of his partners in dialogue and allowing them to unsettle his own convictions. In return, they would permit their minds to be informed and changed by his contribution."

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 18, 2012

David,

I think of Socrates' method of deconstruction and remediation as a positive teaching tool, I just don't see the method as conducive to conversation.

From my readings, I've found the Buddhist method of compassionate listening and loving speech more in line with what I hear you saying. Thich Nhat Hanh spends a healthy amount of his book Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society describing how the process works. 

The key, to my mind is learning how to compassionately listen; to listen without considering or planning your response. I've found it very difficult to practice, but I'm always pleased with the results when I grasp a bit of technique.

Here is one sample: When they see your eyes, they feel that you are looking at them with love and not with suspicion, fear or anger anymore. So transformation takes place on both sides. You will also have a chance to speak out, maybe next week. And you will them about your suffering, and they will listen. This practice of compassionate listening and loving speech is very important to liberate us from our fear, anger and hatred. It has the power to restore communication.

I'm intrigued by the process because I think it has the potential to push through some of the most contentious issues of our time.

Jeff

 

 

 

 
Expand This Thread
Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 16, 2012 - 1:18 pm

Below is the official public statement launching the project.

To your mind, are these standards useful? Can you apply them to public behavior and public statements, both in the political sphere and your own community? 

Improving Civility

Incivility in public discourse in the United States has become a subject of great concern. Both participants and observers of national politics believe that disrespectful and discourteous political discourse hinders solutions to pressing problems before the nation. This incivility has spilled from politics into other areas of our lives.The goal of the Ohio Civility Project is returning civility to public discourse. The project includes scholars from the universities of Akron, Cleveland State and Mount Union, the Akron Beacon Journal, representatives of Akron’s faith community, and the Civic Commons, a social media environment designed for constructive civic dialogue.

We believe that to move away from incivility, we must:

  • Set standards for civility in public discourse (a word that comes from citizenship and civilization).
  • Use these standards to identify and publicize moments of incivility in public discourse.

Clear standards for civil discourse can change expectations for appropriate public discourse by public officials, political campaigns, the news media and the public. In effect, such standards can reset the rhetorical thermostat for public debate in Ohio, lowering the temperature of debate to a more civil level.

Applying civility standards to political discourse and disseminating the results will provide incentives for public officials, campaigns, the news media and public to adhere to the standards. In effect, such information serves as a referee in public debate, calling the fouls of incivility and noting the good plays of civil discourse.

Civility Definition and Standards

Civility is a standard of respect toward other people and their opinions that is necessary for constructive dialogue and resolution of issues.

On the one hand, civility is not just politeness or expressions of goodwill – as welcome as such things may be. Rather, civility is conduct with the broader purpose of constructive dialogue in mind.

On the other hand, civility does not preclude substantive disagreements, vigorous advocacy of points of view, or cogent criticism of alternative perspectives. After all, such things are essential for constructive dialogue.

From this perspective, there are three pillars of civility:

  • The ability to express an opinion while respecting other people.
  • The ability to acknowledge the fact that opinions differ among people.
  • The ability to engage in constructive dialogue with other people.

Three basic standards of civility follow this perspective:

  • Civility disagrees with other opinions without disparaging other people.
  • Civility disagrees with other opinions without deriding other people’s opinions.
  • Civility disagrees with other opinions without denigrating discussion with other people.

Applying Civility Standards

Our civility standards can be used to evaluate public statements by answering the following questions:Does the statement contain offensive language, derogatory comments, or attacks the motives of another person?Does the statement misrepresent, belittle, or dismiss another person’s opinion?Does the statement interrupt discourse, disrupt deliberation, or escalate conflict in a dialogue with other people?

Publicizing Moments of Incivility

Each of these questions can be answered by ranking public statements on a scale ranging from of 0 to 5, with 0 meaning, “very definitely no,” and 5 meaning, “very definitely yes.” These ratings can then be aggregated across statements and evaluators to produce a “civility index” and the average of the aggregate index disseminated to the public.We propose to have a panel that represents the community evaluate statements through the civility index. The results of these evaluations will be shared with the media and the public to move our discussions forward toward civility.

SIGNED: Daniel Coffey, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Akron; Mark Ford, Executive Director, The Love Akron Network; John Green, Director, Bliss Institute, University of Akron; Michael Kohler, Research Assistant, Bliss Institute, University of Akron; Stuart Mendel, Assistant Dean, Levin College, Cleveland State University; Dan Moulthrop, Curator of Conversation, The Civic Commons; Harry Paidas, Interim Director, Regula Center, University of Mount Union; Bruce Winges, Editor, Vice President, Akron Beacon Journal.

 

Responses(73)

Nancy Reeves
on Jul 16, 2012

I would modify the first question a bit:

Does the statement contain offensive language, derogatory comments, or attacks another person or another person's the motives of another person?

As to the second question, "Does the statement misrepresent, belittle, or dismiss another person’s opinion?", it appears that the group was trying to distinguish between fact checking and civility.  I think this question will blur that distinction because whether a misrepresentation is a misrepresentation of another person's opinion versus a misrepresentation of factual information about another person may not be clear.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Jul 16, 2012

I forgot to add - The three sets of three seem like a bit of overkill  I would consolidate the first two - in a single statement of standards.

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 18, 2012

Good afternoon Dan,(Please note the use of a civil salutation, a pleasantry seldom found in electronic communications other than Nigerian scam emails.)I have a thought: incivility will continue to grow in our society as long as there is no downside to being loud, rude or brutish. (Think Feudal Japan, Enlightenment Europe or our own 19th Century West where armed adults ensured that such behavior could get you dead.)Do all you can to make today a good day,(Please note the use of a civil closing, again a politeness rarely seen in cyberspace.)JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Rob Hawkins
on Jul 18, 2012

While I understand "Use these standards to identify and publicize moments of incivility in public discourse." isn't part of the problem good, demonstrable examples of civility - in other words simply pointing out the negative, while perhaps effective, I find leads to more incivility due to negativity.

So while I wouldn't remove that can't you add identify, publicize and celebrate civility?

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Jul 18, 2012

I agree, Rob. My colleagues Daryl Rowland and Noelle Celeste have both pointed out the same thing. Nobody wants to be the civility police. Much as Politifact will laud politicians for their adherence to the truth and facts, we should celebrate civility and effective dialogue when it takes place. 

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 19, 2012

Good morning Dan,Then there was this from 31 December 2008...http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2008/12/that-said/6509/#comment-36623128(I continue to have difficulty inserting hyperlinks.)Do all you can to make today a good day,JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 23, 2012

Good morning Dan,This is from this morning's weekly quote from Tom Peters:Ink the word “LISTEN” on your hand before your next meeting. (And/or “DON’T INTERRUPT.”)I think the suggestion might be a good one to write on your bathroom mirror as well.Do all you can to make today a good day,Jeff HessHave Coffee Will Write

 
Bill Lyons
on Jul 27, 2012

Dan et al--

Now that I see what your team was thinking, I like what you are doing very much.  Just two thoughts, clearly on the margins.

I wonder why it must be incivil to challenge motives.  If my motive is to disrupt civil discourse (not entirely uncommon), challenging this motive might seem to be required as civil discourse...and required by your own standard as written here. 

If my communication is intentionally designed to misrepresent my motives, to re-present my private interest as if it were a public interest (for instance), it would seem appropriate and still civil to make the implicit explicit and challenge motives.  This is part of Schattschneider's point in defending the need to retain a distinction between public and private interest.  See also Harry Frankfurt's short but thoughtful essay titled, On B******t.

I also wonder if disrupting discourse is always incivil.  Was it uncivil when some stepped in to disrupt Rush Limbaugh's ongoing discourse about the law student who testified before Congress?  This suggests it might be civil to disrupt an incivil discourse. 

But it is also possible that the civil utility of disruption runs deeper...much of JS Mill's discussion of the importance of the 'vigorous contestation of ideas' in On Liberty would, at least at times, depend on our capacity to disrupt discourses. 

I understand that these points are on the margins, but I thought they were worth thinking about.  Thanks for all you are doing here.  --Bill

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 29, 2012

Good morning Bill,Participants in this discussion can read Dr. Walker's essay here, hear it read here and watch an interview with Dr. Walker here.Do all you can to make today a good day,Jeff HessHave Coffee Will Write

 
Bill Lyons
on Jul 30, 2012

Jeff--

Thanks for sharing the links.  Very helpful.  I could be wrong, but I think the links go to Dr. Frankfurt, however, not to Dr. Walker.  An essay well worth reading for anyone interested in better understanding what we might call spin, or more broadly framing, today.  --Bill

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 30, 2012

Good morning Bill,Thank you. I'm not sure why my brain was disengaged here, but you're absolutely correct, the links I provided to go to content from and about Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt. I honestly don't know where I came up with the name Walker.I appreciate the catch.Do all you can to make today a good day,Jeff HessHave Coffee Will Write

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 03, 2012

Good points Bill. As you know, I am interested in that moment when somebody decides to "go off" and become incivil, wondering what can be so important to allow such conduct. Looking back 240 years, you can see why our founding fathers were so mean to the king, but we are far removed from the subtleties of the day that might muddy the issue a lot. It would be interesting -- but impossible -- to know what our public discourse will look like from the perspective of the future.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 05, 2012

Dave--

While not unconcerned about the individual citizen who 'goes off,' I am more concerned about the more powerful citizens who produce a public pedagogy that models incivility with intentionally misleading or distracting statements.  This is why I recommend we consider seeing the conversation about motives as important in evaluating civility, so we can challenge the anti-democratic and elitist motives of those who try to confuse or mislead by design.  May be beyond the scope of this project however.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Good morning Dave,I think that "moment" is a culmunation of frustration.The first time a person tried to convince me that President Obama is not an American citizen, I'd be likely to engage in a conversation about the known facts.The second, third, or even maybe fourth, time a person tried to convince me that President Obama is not an American citizen, I would like to think that I would stay civil, but I imagine my responses would become shorter and shorter.At some point that nth person is going to assert that President Obama is not an American citizen and one of two events will occur: in a positive world, I walk away swearing to never talk about the subject again or, in a negative world, I "go off."We seldom get to see the build up, or the disengagement, we just see the explosion, and I think that is part of the reason why we have the false impression that incivility is greater today than (pick your perferred point in history).The citizenship of President Obama is an easy one, but there are so many other issue where basic, core, perceptions of reality differ: abortion, gun control, god, &c.What I struggle with is how do we push past the surface differences and dig down to the core? If you are Pro Choice, can I have any conversation with you that would make you reject that position? If you are Pro Gun Ownership, how can I convince you we ought to repeal the 2nd Amendment?I can have one, two, three, maybe four, reasonable conversations on all of these topics, but at that nth point I either walk away or blow up and no one will ever notice me wakling away.So, where do we go from here?Do all that you can to make today a good day,Jeff HessHave Coffee Will Write

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

p.s. for a real-world example of what can happen at the nth conversation, visit mano singham's exceletent blog and converation on chick-fil-a...

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 20, 2012

Since the criteria appear in the Beacon today, seeking comment, let me follow up on your focus on going off...and what could make that so important.  This seems to invite us, in a civil conversation, to challenge the motives of other speakers.  Why would you say that?  What is so important to you to justify going off like that? 

Since we all know people who are motivated by the thrill of a fight, and for this reason usually oblivious to civility standards, I wonder if anyone else also feels like categorizing comments that challenge a speakers motivations as uncivil risks santizing away one of the most important parts of civil and productive deliberations?

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 20, 2012

Yes, I think we all can imagine some issues that are worth risking civility to shout about, particularly emergencies, but it's hard to find anyone who admits doing this themselves. Even the commenters on Ohio.com consider their own comments civil by their own descriptions.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 21, 2012

To challenge someone's motives is not to shout.  Take internet trolling, for instance.  While it can be mean and uncivil...it need not be. 

A troll's objective is to disrupt the conversation and politely repeating claims that have been thoroughly discredited, like the president is an alien, Muslim, socialist, is one way to do that. 

And the code would prevent anyone from challenging this troll's motive: to make conversation more difficult through pointless, but polite, distraction. 

Most define trolls as uncivil. But one fairly thoughtful blog noted the following:

"A troll is not angry or otherwise emotional about the topic.... They will say whatever gets the biggest reaction."

And this highlights the ways a more sophisticated troll and this is the type of political speech that might require us to challenge its disruptive motives for us to preserve civility. 

The blog sees this sophisticated troll as 'without a horse in the race,' and that would be one type, but it is certainly possible to imagine a high paid troll of this type seeing an advantage to her or his candidate or party in a more disrupted conversation about this or that topic. 

This is why I think we should reconsider the motives part of the code.  We are, of course, interested in the random individual who goes off.  But ought we not be more concerned about the forms of incivility mobilized by the most powerful?

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 21, 2012

I'm not seeing what benefit can be gained by questioning motives that makes it worth the disrespect that is associated with attributing an incorrect motive to a particular behavior.

The example you mentioned can be addressed pointing out that Mr. Troll has repeatedly made false assertions [list the assertions]. These assertions were disproven [list when & how they were disproven]. . . you can carry this recitation out as far as you hve facts to support.

You may well be right that Mr. Troll is only doing this to be disruptive - but is it necessary to make that suggestion?  Does it add anything to the information you have already provided, which discredits pretty much anything Mr. Troll has to say?

I am offering this partly because I think differently than a lot of people.  Occasionally, those different ways I think about things results in people accusing me of having motives that are not even in my emotional repertoire - and it makes me cranky.  So I'm not big on attributing motives to someone else's behavior as part of a civil conversation.

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 27, 2012

Understanding motive is a key to understanding a person's point of view. Some people only take views that are exppediant to them. Others take views that at least partially help others. But to a great extent, understand what motivates a person helps us understand why they are making a point. I consider pointing out motivation an important part of my reporting so the reader can make judgements on their own. And I would point out that taking a view simply for selfish reasons is not necessarily a bad thing; it depends on many other factors, too. Where things get dicey is when people make statements to support hidden agendas, like a company that takes a stand on public policy that also serve to boost it's bottom line. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, but a company also comes into a debate with a lot of institutional knowledge that should be respected. So knowing that little scrap of information helps weigh the facts.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 27, 2012

I think having conversations in which motives are explored is different from assuming motives and then using those motives to evaluate whether a particular contribution or set of contributions are civil.

Motives are inherently subjective, so in the context of rating interactions as civil or not, unless the person being rated discloses their motive, the rating panel cannot really know - and even when motive is disclosed the panel only know what they have been told.  

So - as a general principle for good conversations I think a mutual exploration of motives can be really helpful.  And including objectve factual background from which readers can draw their own opinions about motive can also be helpful.  But in rating interactions as civil or not (or reporting when what has been reported on does not clearly disclose motives) I think attributing motive to the speaker unfairly injects the bias of the lens through which the panel (or reporter) view the interaction.

 

 

 

 

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 29, 2012

Nancy, I think we are largely in agreement. If I understand you (and correct me if I am wrong) understanding motivation can be important, but there is a fine line toward incivility that must not be crossed. I would add that a reasonable person would acknowledge their motivations in making their statements and not leaving motivation unsaid or for speculation by whoever is listening. I am thinking in particular of blandly-named Political Action Committees that seek to influence public policy without saying who is financing them. Note that doctors and other scientists are expected to disclose who finances their studies, etc.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 29, 2012

Yes - we mostly agree.  Discussing motivations among parties engaged in a conversation can be productive - if for no other reason than that the solution or proposal at the center of the dispute is sometimes not the real issue.  If we dig deeper there may be a different way of addressing whatever it is that motivates the competing proposals.  Or we may just understand each other better - even if we don't agree as to the solution.  (And that discussion could be among candidates, or between a reporter and a participant in an event being reported on.)

What is a problem is the attribution of motives to a person based on how they are behaving or what they are saying.  Whether it is one candidate attributing motives to his or her opponent - or the panel rating civility attributing motives to candidates, that intuition or insight may well be wrong.

I see disclosure as a slightly different issue - but perhaps where some of the gap between is lies.  Disclosures about contributions, or affiliations, or other things of that nature are objective facts.  They may also provide motive - but not always.  I think panels and reporters ought to report those factual disclosures, but permit the reader/consumer to draw his or her own conclusion.

Which is sort of back where we started - report (or note in the civility rating) the repeated assertion of claims that have been thoroughly discredited - and let the reader or voter decide (if it is important to them) what the motive was for that kind of disruptive behavior.

(Of course, if the person actually offers a motive, that is a different matter.  I am all for reporting and/or taking into account what people actually say about how they arrived at their positions.)

 

 

 

 

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 28, 2012

Thoughtful.  But is precluding our ability to ask questions about the motives of others necessary to be civil?  If we extend our Mr. Troll example from one snap shot to the kind on ongoing iterations we see in the real world...when it has been pointed out repeatedly that his statements are both false and intentionally desigend to mislead...yet he continues to repeat these, and in the real world, has the capacity to do so across multiple communication channels...doesn't this introduce a second question, beyond whatever he continues to lie about, and isnt' addressing this question at the core of what we need for civil discourse? 

If some participants come to a conversation with the goal of being politely uncivil, politely making it impossible for others to have a rational discussion about complex issues, that seems both uncivil to me and an instance were merely challenging factual inaccuracy fails to get at the real issue of incivility.

In the code it is proposed that 'attacking one's motives' be seen as uncivil.  That I agree with.  But asking questions about motives?  Asking why a candidate would repeat something fact checkers have repeatedly shown to be false...this seems like something we should do more of, politely and without assuming motives or making others cranky, in order to be more civil.

When we say 'follow the money' are we not suggesting that we need to know more about motives to understand the claims being made?

You are right to caution against assuming another's motives, but I still wonder if the code does not inadvertantly make civility more difficult to achieve by suggesting that to raise questions about what motivates repeated behavior that cannot otherwise be explained is uncivil.  It seems like a rule designed to protect the more powerful from being asked why their policy positions so often coincides with their positions that enhance their financial status. 

And it seems like a rule designed to protect a mythical version of political discourse, one that pretends motives do not matter or even exist, when we know that a central strategy in politics is to re-present one's private interests as if they were a public interest...a strategy designed to confuse precisely because challenges a speakers motives is a difficult thing to do well.

Coming back to the concrete question of the code...while I find this discussion fascinating...I am increasingly persuaded by your analysis that the code itself may not be as problematic on this point as I initially thought.  To preclude 'attacks' on another's motives may not preclude raising questions...but even as I say that I think of how difficult that line will be to draw in relation to real ads.

 
Jeff Hess
on Jul 30, 2012

Good morniung friends,Here's another appropriate quote from a Master of Civil Communication, Tom Peters:"Effective communicating REQUIRES “wasting” lots of upfront time to establish rapport. (“Getting right to the point” is usually disastrous.)"Do all you can to make today a good day,Jeff HessHave Coffee Will Write

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 06, 2012

If that's true then all of us in the media are in trouble because we are taught from Day One to get to the point right away. As I study this more, I am constantly made aware that a lot of the practices of the media are seen as uncivil. I would contend that many of them are necessary, but it's sobering to know how many people take offense with the methods we use. For example, we can listen to a lengthy speech and pick up on the most controvercial aspect, discarding the routine stuff. The result can be to set people apart. The logic/reason is that a story must deal with the most important aspects and that's usually the parts that are controvercial. I'd be interested to know how other people feel.

 
Peter Comings
on Aug 06, 2012

Dave, my take on the point is that we should spend the time (in our case as media reps) building that rapport before a story is written. Sitting as the managing editor of weeklies in my case may inform my opinion differently than your experience. I might dream out loud a little, too, in thinking that spending time to build that community rapport is actually what is at work in removing the notion of bias we worry about in journalism. Remove the bias and civil disagreements are achievable, no matter if we write about the most controversial aspect of any given topic.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Good Morning Peter,I don't think that Tom Peters had journalists in mind, in fact, the practice, as I remember it, was to rotate reporters off of beats periodically to prevent precisely that level of familiarity Peters encourages.Rather, I think he speaks to the kind of rapport I find in our monthly Socrates Cafe (we meet at 7:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month) where, over time, we become more tolerant and accepting of uncomfortable views because we know the people expressing them.One of the dynamics that I've noticed is that if a person only attends one session, they're likely to not come back, but if they do come back the second time, then they are more likely to become a regular.I think that is because they get to know us, know how we think, know our prejudices and perceptions of reality such that they don't immediately go on the defensive or attack. They become comfortable in the conversation once they begin to feel safe.Do all you can to make today a good day.Jeff HessHave Coffee Will Write

 

 
Peter Comings
on Aug 09, 2012

"Rather, I think he speaks to the kind of rapport I find in our monthly Socrates Cafe (we meet at 7:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month) where, over time, we become more tolerant and accepting of uncomfortable views because we know the people expressing them."

Sounds like a story to me :)

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Peter,Not to hijack Dan's thread, but the group I facilitate is the oldest, continuous Socrates Café group in the world.We'll celebrate our 10th anniversary on Tuesday, 9 October.Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

Dave,In J-school (when we still had manual typewriters) I remember a long conversation about asking "the question:" facing anyone who has just lost a loved one, "how do you feel right now?"Every time I hear or see or read a reporter ask that question I just want to smack them upside the head (not very civil, I know, but I'm way past the nth point (see above) on the question).The civility of our profession goes down hill from there.But that's the way journalism works, we report events, we don't have conversations. Occassionally, what a journalist does may look like a conversation -- the work of Bill Moyers comes immediately to mind -- but even Moyers only seems to be having a conversation because he sits down with an agenda and a set of questions he needs answered.If we didn't ask reasonable, hard questions then we'd just reprint news releases.JeffHave Coffee Will Write

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 09, 2012

Interesting - perhaps my take is different because I wasn't trained as a journalist (so when I worked as one I tried to write stories I would have wanted to read, rather than the way they were supposed to be written).  The other difference was that, even though I was getting paid as a journalist I had no expectation of earning a living that way.  I was a stay at home mom, working as a reporter for one of the Summit County weeklies covering government meetings and a few stories which grew out of them.  That gave me the luxury of time that most journalists don't have.

I tried hard to include a balanced recitation of the background, then the controversial parts - also balanced.  That often meant I did a lot of independent research and spent more time than average interviewing people who represented both sides of the controversy.  It often took me a long time to get to the point, because my perspective is that being able to really explain the point well depends on knowing the foundation on which it rests.

As an aside, my measure of when I did an addequate job was when neither side liked the story - and when I did a good job both sides liked it.  When the opinions were mixed, I knew I had not been as balanced as I should have been.

But - I guess I am not sure it is civility that gets the short shrift when reporters move directly to what they perceive the point to be, but in depth understanding (and often subtle but inportant differences in the focus of the point) often takes a hit.  If what came out in an article demonstrated a deep understanding of my perspective (as an interviewee), I doubt I would remember very long whether the reporter went right to the point or engaged in pleasantries surrounding the discussion of the main point.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 09, 2012

N.I actually think you became a journalist the right way.Given a way-back machine, I would not get a journalism degree again. I think Journalism took a wrong turn when it became a profession and not a vocation. When I was in J-school the New York Times still hired reporters with high school degrees. That is how it should work.I think a great deal of the difficulty in journalism today stems from the lack of working-class reporters. You might want to check out the Working-Class Perspectives blog at Youngstown State University where they've made a strong case for this point in the past.J.

 
Dave Scott
on Aug 13, 2012

I respectfully disagree Jeff. If anything we need more training for journalists, especially given the limited, teach-to-the-test nature of high schools these days. A liberal college education (liberal in the sense that it provides a generous taste of all areas of thought) are needed now more than ever. The biggest gap would be in journalism ethics, which might not even be taught in high school and are too complex and elementary to be left to the chances of on-the-job training. In my opinion, a lot of what's wrong with journalism these days is a lack of professionalism demonstrated by folks who come in with an agenda and think they are journalists because they have a website or other forum and something to say.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 13, 2012

Dave,I have nothing against journalists having college degrees, just journalists having college degrees in Journalism.If I had a way-back machine I would still get the four-year degree, but it would most likely be in either political science or pre-med.Some of our best writers and reporters barely made it out of high school, Mark Twain and Jack London come to mind, and two of my journalism idols -- Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin, did what they did without the benefit of degrees. I firmly believe that any reporter can learn what's really important from a good editor in a lot less than four years.By making Journalism a profession (my Journalism BS is from Ohio University) we skew our ranks so that we are unable to report as well as we might on the stories involving aspects of life for which we have no perspective.We're not Doctors or Lawyers, we don't need a license to commit journalism. A journalist is a person who journals, who shares their unique view of the human condition in a way that readers find interesting and informing. Some of us do a poor job, most of us are so so and a tiny few ascend to writing heights.If anyone ever told Mike Royko that he was a professional Royko would have dumped a beer on his head.Jeff

 
Peter Comings
on Aug 14, 2012

There could surely be an entire thread given to "journalism" and what it is or is not. Royko was a giant. It would be fascinating to run his language through a civility meter.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 14, 2012

Peter,

Indeed! If I could write 1/10 as well as Royko, I could die happy.

I actually considered deleting my comments regarding journalism because that's not really where Dan wanted the conversation to go and I was feeling a bit of guilt for hijacking his thread.

Your suggestion for a separate Journalism thread is excellent and you should start that conversation today. I'm sure that Dave and I, along with all the other journalists here, will find that conversation worthy as well.

Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 14, 2012

Dave,

Peter has started a second conversation on Journalism and journalists so that we don't hijack Dan's thread.

Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 10, 2012

Good afternoon friends,My email this morning include my weekly notice from TED Talks under the subject line: How To Disagree Better and I thought, this has to be for us.Take a look and share what you can take away from these two speakers to further our conversation.Do all that you can to make today a good day,Jeff

 

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 12, 2012

Good morning friends,

Last evening I had a front-porch conversation with my friend Adam Harvey who has been following our virtual conversation here.

I'll leave you to your own devices to read at your liesure the full essay, but I thought my conclusion might be further fodder here.

This morning I wrote:

So then, is incivility an expression of power and civility that of largess or weakness? Is civility really the result of our inability to speak our minds? Did Dick Chaney tell Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to go f**k yourself because he was vice president, richer than Midas and therefore could say what he liked without fear of retaliation?

Perhaps.

What do you think?

Do all that you can to make today a good day,

Jeff

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 12, 2012

Lol! I love that the Civic Commons  language nanny doesn't allow me to type the first name of a Vice President of the United States because his name is a euphenism for penis.

 
Jeff Hess
on Aug 12, 2012

Related to my lol above is a post I wrote this morning (but won't repeat here because it is lengthy and meta to this coversation) on Have Coffee Will Write.

Readers of and participants in this conversation may find WORDS YOU CAN & CAN'T USE IN CIVIL DISCOURSE... interesting.

J.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 28, 2012

Dan--

Initially I thought the images would change over time.  Since they have not I wonder why the paper decided to label this conversation thread with a photo that looks like an angry president Obama arguing with a person in a crowd?

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 28, 2012

Interesting observation.  That had not occurred to me - likely because I recognize the image from a very angry confrontation that was in the news about a week before this conversation started.

But you're right - as small as the image is, withouth the context of (then) recent news I can see the impression it could have.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 29, 2012

Thanks Nancy.  Glad to hear I am not the only one to see it. Since we know how powerful images can be, do you think there is any chance the ABJ will find another photo?  Really enjoying our conversations.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 29, 2012

Changing the picture would be up to Dan/the Civic Commons team.  Photos don't usually change over time - except in the first couple of days when a conversation is started without a good starting photo.  But there isn't any reason it couldn't change if there is a concern.  Perhaps when Dan sees this subthread he will have something to add.

I've been enjoying our conversation, as well.  I'll be responding more later (perhaps a few days) to your comments about motives.

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 30, 2012

Dan/Civic Commons Team?

 
Jill Miller Zimon
on Aug 30, 2012

Hi Bill - i'm seeing this now for the first time and will tickle Dan and Jason - thanks.

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Aug 30, 2012

Bill, the image was from an event this summer in Parma, Ohio, but you may be right--a change could be in order. Do you have any suggestions?

 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 31, 2012

Thanks Dan.  I do not have a replacement image in mind.  If you would like a suggestion, I could do some looking around.

 
Bill Lyons
on Sep 01, 2012

How about this image?

 
Civility
Bill Lyons
on Sep 05, 2012

Dan--

Have you made a decision not to remove a picture that clearly sends, however, inadvertantly, a partisan (and inaccurate, since the president is anything but the image of an angry black man) message?  The civility code does not directly address images, but if it did, continuing to use this image would be seen as a violation of that code.  I have nothing invested in any particular alternative photo, but I wonder why no response at all.

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Sep 06, 2012

Bill--sorry to not have responded sooner. The fact that I missed your suggestion over the holiday weekend underscores the need for a notification system here at the Commons (which our tech team is working on as I write this, actually.

To avoid confusion for anyone who stumbles across this thread and wonders what photo we've been talking about, here is the image, which shows a Romney supporter (who bears a passing resemblance to President Obama) shouting at an Obama supporter (who looks like a professor at CSU named Justin Vaughn but also isn't him). It's from a piece posted at Cleveland.com, also attached here.

 
Bill Lyons
on Sep 07, 2012

Thanks for clarifyng the source of the picture.  But since it clearly looks like the president...any chance we can replace it?

 
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 07, 2012

It was replaced yesterday.  If you are still seeing the old one at the top of your conversation, you might want to refresh your page - it may just be displaying the cached version.

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Sep 07, 2012

Bill--it's done! 

 
Bill Lyons
on Sep 08, 2012

Thanks Dan and Nancy.  This seems smart to me, but I be reading too much into one image.  

 
Nancy Reeves
on Aug 30, 2012

Just to close the conversational loop:  Dan Moulthrop (the person who started the conversation - and chose the image to showcase it), or the Civic Commons Team (the folks run the Civic Commons, and who have been known to swap images - although usually adding a specific image in place of the default one).

If you haven't started a conversation, you might want to give it a try.  The way it works (and why I pointed you to Dan) is that when you start a conversation you take on the responsiblity for its care and feeding

"We’re glad you want to start a conversation! Remember, you’re in charge and conversations at The Civic Commons are a little different than elsewhere because we keep our principles in mind (We strive to be diverse, credible, transparent, civil, entrepreneurial, participatory and optimistic). That’s not a huge deal, but it comes with a few responsibilities.

  1. Invite people to participate.
  2. Check in regularly, and stay engaged with people who are participating.
  3. If there are any problems, let us know. You can always reach us through Help Build the Commons, just under your name in the top right of the screen."
 
Bill Lyons
on Aug 31, 2012

Thanks Nancy.  Not sure I have a topic worthy of a new conversation, but I will keep that option in mind.  

 
Randall Frye
on Sep 15, 2012

I fear that the concern for incivility will over shadow the issue and take focus. Much of this is common sense that our parents tried to teach. Are we to program our computers to discuss the issues so that human emotion can be removed... and all those wonderful adjectives we need to avoid? So if I ask someone a valid and important question using four-letter words is it appropriate for them to avoid the answer because I'm not being civil? Not all conversation takes place at an academic doctoral level.

 
Jill Miller Zimon
on Sep 15, 2012

Randall - in my experience, four letter words seem best used to emphasize or punctuate a sentiment or emotion or the strength of an opinion as felt by the speaker. But when used in a constant, regular stream, I don't interpret it as a lack of being at a doctoral level of discourse. Rather. I interpret it as meaning that the speaker might be lacking specific reasons for why they feel the way they do. It's not just that such language might be viewed as uncivil - it's that the language doesn't tell you anything that can help you understand the speaker's opinion other than that it might be really strong. Honestly, I also think using four letter words instead of explanations about why someone believes what they believe or why they feel the way they do is also lazy. I don't let people get away with just telling me something is complicated, rather than explaining it to me. When someone tells me something was fun or something was bad, I want to know why. One syllable words can do the explaining - but profanity? Name-calling? Not so much.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 15, 2012

You are asking good questions.  I have spent a fair amount of time talking about these questions, particularly about the question of language, in the last year or so.  Let me split my response into two categories - since I treat different categories of colorful language differently.

7-dirty-words type

As background, so you know where I'm coming from, I almost never use four-letter words.  I used one this week, and I remember the circumstances of the last time I used one around a year ago.  If I had to guess, the time before that would have been ~ 2004/5.  It is that rare for me. 

So here is the view from someone toward the language prude end of the spectrum.  The occasional 4-letter word doesn't keep me from hearing what someone is saying.  But there have been a few times when the language was so pervasive, and so randomly inserted into the conversation, that I have been unable to focus on substance of the conversation because I couldn't shut out the language. 

On the other hand, I also know that when I ask people to back off from using 4-letter words, it forces them focus on the words they are using rather than the thoughts they want to convey.  So people who pepper their speech with the occasional, or even frequent, 4-letter words around me mostly have no clue it makes me uncomfortable.

But my listening tolerance is pretty high, and I would rather be slightly uncomfortable rather than throw up a barrier for the speaker.  There may be other listeners who reach the shut-off point much sooner.  So if the point is to have conversations with each other, it is probably a good idea to reach a happy medium where the speaker is not running every word s/he says thorugh the equivalent of a net nanny - but also one which is respectful of the impact of vulgar language on the listener's ability to hear the substance of what the speaker is saying.

Words that hurt

There are words which have unfortunately become part of popular conversation which are hurtful to individuals or groups of individuals.  Those fall into a different category for me.One of the most extreme examples of the kind of words I am talking about is the "N" word - which should be clearly recognizable as a word which hurts, in almost all circumstances.  But there are many more that are much more subtle.  A common playground insult these days is she/he/that is "so gay."  I doubt anyone hurling that insult thinks much about what it means or why it is insulting - but the insult only "works" if being gay is a negative thing.  The put down uses a group of people (gay people) as an insult.  In most instances, the speaker probably hasn't even thought about why the phrase is insulting - after all everyone is saying it.  It's just part of the background noise these days.  But for many gay children, hearing that word is the aural equivalent of neon flashing lights, and the gay child who hears it used as an insult feels its sting.  One more brick in the "if they really knew who I was, they would hate me" wall that separates that child from fully accepting him or herself.  (Although I used the playground setting for this example, the impact really doesn't change a whole lot based on age.)

Because of the real hurt that results from using these kinds of words, I think it is good thing to stop the substantive conversation and have a chat about language when they are being used - even at the cost of at least temporarily focusing the speaker on words rather than substance.

My rule of thumb is that if anyone tells me that words I am using hurt them because of who they are, I should probably stop using those words.  Even if it doesn't hurt everyone in that category.  Even if I wasn't aiming at the person raising the concern.  I also try very hard when I am speaking to think about whether something I am saying uses a group of people as an insult.  As a listener, I also try to notice and point out when I recognize hurtful language even if I am not a member of the targeted group because sometimes those who are being used as a battering ram don't feel they can risk exposing themselves, lest they become the next target of the battering ram.

So what makes a difference to me isn't the reading level of the conversation, or the formality, but whether the language that is being used becomes a barrier to communication. 

 
Randall Frye
on Sep 16, 2012

My... so many words... they aren't all that we have... words... we have each other and no matter what words we use we can't deny that the truth is paramount to the choice of words used to deliver it.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 17, 2012

Sometimes the choice of words create barriers between us, and prevent the truth from being heard.

The context for my response is the number of conversations I have had recently in which words have created barriers.  The challenge, when people really are being hurt by words (the latter category) is that it often looks like word policing (not the language you used, but certainly the perspective - that words don't matter).  I think they require different approaches, because I think part having each other (and being civil with each other) means attending to what we are doing that hurts those around us. 

 
Bill Lyons
on Sep 16, 2012

Randall--

Thanks for your post.  I sometimes wonder (and if this is not what you meant, I apologize, but it is what I heard) if civility is the wrong solution, based on a misdiagnosis of the problem.  Yes, elite political ads and speeches are often personal attacks that make us uncomfortable.  And, yes, incivility can be an obstacle to communication.  But when I observe our situation today, I do not see these as the same thing.  

If we assume they are the same, then the solution is some sort of grammar police and the image in my mind is one of my grade school nuns beating the heck of me for speaking my mind in a way that annoyed her.

If, however, we separate these and focus on the most immediate problems associated with elite ads...I am not sure the most important thing for us to address in these is civility.  

It seems much more important to hold them accountable for repeatedly misleading, and sometimes outright lying, to us...and to see that as incivility on steroids.  That is, they hold their audience is such low regard, that they feel free to act in ways that are fundamentally disrepectful and dismissive... far more damaging that any passionate statement from a regular citizen that might include a well-chosen curse word or two...this is the kind of incivility that is undermining political communication today.

So, I appreciate your defense of the importance of citizens speaking with passion and I support what I heard you saying...that we should avoid using civility as a way to distract us from focusing on holding those accountable for actually creating the problem and acting as if the problem is regular citizens using language most of hear every day.  It is possible this was not what you were thinking, but your post sparked this in my head.  

 
Randall Frye
on Sep 16, 2012

Precisely what I meant... I should have said that truth is more important than civility... my fear is that the truth will be sacrificed and even manipulated through being so civil... I wonder how many of you thought George Carlin was a genious... I did... words are only as effective as the emotion on one's face and inflection in tone can convey.

 
Randall Frye
on Sep 16, 2012

I apologize for going off point... public statements should, of course, not be inundated with negative tone... I was trying to point to my fear of civility becoming a tool for those who wish to deceive.

 
Jill Miller Zimon
on Sep 16, 2012

I've been known to say on multiple occasions that one downside to how civility may be defined or get enforced is that it absolutely has been used, as a concept, to suppress voices (it's not something a lady would say, or the aspersion of saying someone is being uppity, and so on) and under no circumstances do I approve of that kind of use. However, I do think most of us have it in ourselves to say what we want to say in a way that can be heard by most people, even if they don't want to hear it.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Sep 17, 2012

Jill,

You have touched on something that perhaps ought to be added to the civility metric:  Do I feel the comment is uncivil because of who it is that is saying it?  In other words (using your concern as an example)  if the comment had been made by a man, would I still feel it was negative (not lady-like, uppity, etc.)?

 
Matt Leighninger
on Sep 19, 2012

Dan, standards for personal behavior are fine, but I think a big part of the problem is that most of the opportunities we have to get involved in public life actually encourage incivility. (The Civic Commons is a counter-example, of course!) No matter what you want to get involved in - planning decisions made about your neighborhood, or the way your kid's school is run, or how the city budget gets balanced - you've either got to send letters/emails and hope someone responds, or attend meetings that are generally not participatory at all. The way our public institutions tend to operate doesn't give people the sense that they can have an impact - as a result, most people tune out, and a few get angry and uncivil. The lack of civility is a structural problem, not just a behavioral one.

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Sep 20, 2012

Matt, I like how you frame that. I think you're probably right, but it's aasset of factors and influences that are very hidden. I'm hopeful Dave Scott of the ABJ has seen your comment, as it might be a fruitful vein for reporting.  

 
Dave Scott
on Sep 22, 2012

Hi Matt. Could you give me some examples of what you mean?

 
Matt Leighninger
on Nov 08, 2012

Hi Dave - Most official public meetings are examples of this - if you want to contribute at all, you get three minutes at a microphone to address the officials (and the crowd). It is a format that discourages productive dialogue, and frustrates both citizens and officials.

 
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