Finding Civility in Governance and Politics

A Note to Civic Leaders:
Civil DiscourseServing as an elected official can be a challenge in these contentious political times. Whatever drew you to public
service, I applaud your leadership, passion, and commitment to your communities. It isn’t always be easy, but it IS rewarding.
One can try, but it’s difficult to ignore the divisiveness that exists in the political arena at all levels of government
today. Although discord and rancor have always been a part of the political stage throughout history, social
media has allowed it to feel particularly invasive in our everyday lives. We’ve lost our civility in solving problems.
We often don’t listen to each other, and it’s become a win-lose game.
A while back, a friend forwarded me an op-ed from the New York Times (“How to Fix Politics” by David Brooks,
April 12, 2016). Several of the author’s points still resonate with me. The crux of what he says is that “the roots of political dysfunction lie deep in society. If there’s truly going to be improvement, there has to be improvement in the social context politics is embedded in.” He goes on to say that we used to be a society that was once deep-seated in a sense of community, which shifted to a mind-set that was more individualistic following World War II. People often don’t even know their neighbors anymore and civic life has deteriorated. He states that by 2005, 47 percent of Americans reported that they knew none or just a few of their neighbors by name. Brooks references a book titled The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc J. Dunkelman that talks about middle ring relationships—the PTA and the neighborhood watch, for example. He says that this is where people become skilled at deliberation with people who have different political opinions, but still get things done. But, he says, with these middle ring relationships deteriorating, Americans have become worse at public deliberation. People are finding it easier to ignore inconvenient viewpoints and facts.
This is where our challenges come in—and more importantly, opportunities—to change the political discourse. We all want the same thing for our communities and residents—jobs, safety, good schools, recreational and cultural opportunities, and vibrant downtowns, to name a few. Setting aside our differences and connecting with our fellow residents, being flexible and open-minded, is something for all of us to work towards. Brooks says that if each of us fulfill all our discrete individual desires, we end up with a society that is not what we want at all.

This blog originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of the The Review.