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?
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.
Posted Jul 16, 2012