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The A-B-C's of Civility

Coffee Party and several of our partners work hard to demonstrate and facilitate respectful engagement in this divisive political and cultural climate. We have our work cut out for us because across the spectrum, from left to right, an awful lot of people just do not want to be civil; I think too many people just want to win.

We are not the only ones working on this effort for civility. Do you know Krista Tippitt, the bright, engaging host of the On Being project and radio show? She talked about the concept of civility in a recent interview and along the way, she quoted Arlie Hochschild: "Caring is not the same as capitulating."

You can actually really care and truly muster some curiosity, really want to understand where coming from and really desire to find the complexity in their position, even if you continue to disagree with it. ... You bring your passion with you, but that doesn’t have to be at odds with meeting the passion of another human being.

I really think what civility means to me, what civility needs to become for us to walk together — because we do share a life, whether we like each other or not — I think civility...is about being willing to be present, one human being to another. All those issues and differences can be in the room, but they don’t define what is possible between us.

I like this. I have dear friends and family who think very differently than I do about politics. I disagree strongly with some of their positions, but I refuse to ever let those opinions obscure their humanity and damage our relationship.

Tippett talks about how an attitude of civility is "internal work."

I think an intention to be civil adventurously in the first instance would be to try to be very self-aware, to want to bring your own best self into that room and to figure out what that means.

As I understand how the world works, I am only responsible for myself. The only person in the world I can ever hope to change is me. And so an attitude and intention of civility falls squarely on my shoulders. Even when a conversation goes awry, I'm still in charge of myself: my attitude and my words. Even when we disagree on an issue, I can still respect the dark and light complexity of my fellow human beings - especially when I admit the messy contradiction that is me.

Ms. Tippett reminds us that a person is not the same as their position. She cautions us not to lose sight of their humanity by lumping them into a category: "the other side."

Instead:

... open yourself to let them surprise you, to let them not be quite as simple or as evil as they may have become in your mind, which is not to say that you expect them to be any different on the positions but that you are going to call yourself to be a full human being, and you’re going to be open to them being a full human being. And that will mean that you understand you bring contradiction to this, and they bring contradiction to this. That can be an opening to be standing on some common ground as human beings, even if you’re not standing on common ground with your opinions.
Call yourself to be a full human being.
Be open to them being a full human being.

Yes!

This!

It sounds pretty simple.

But it's a lifetime effort.

 

One of the complaints I hear (especially these days from my friends on the left) is that being civil is a weakness. "Civility" is used as a synonym for "tame or timid" but I think this is a misuse of the concept.

Ms. Tippett thinks so too.

My concern for a while has been that the word is too meek, that it’s about being nice and tame and safe. And I don’t think stepping into any of the dark places and the fraught places right now can be nice or tame or safe. I always reach for other words to attach, like “muscular.� It has to be muscular; it has to be robust — this language we use in the Grounding Virtues, “adventurous civility.� It needs to be an adventure.

This is good vocabulary for our day: attaching a strong adjective to the word "civility."

  • Audacious civility.
  • Bold civility.
  • Courageous civility.

The A-B-C's of civility.

This reminds us that civility is not a namby-pamby, spineless effort.

Rather civility is steely intention and muscular action.

Coffee Party USA sponsors a Facebook page followed by over a million people. The vast majority of these readers haven't signed on to our Coffee Party values and many will argue against our insistence that comments must be civil. We have very strong filters that automatically hide profanity and many personal insults. It's a good thing we do; anonymous internet conversations are especially infamous for incivility.

Sometimes a comment like this will come through:

The %^&* Orange *&%# lies every time he opens his *&%# mouth.

Note: this comment will be hidden by our filters because it is profane, insulting and uncivil. (Not to mention, very childish.) This approach does nothing to foster discourse across our differences.

Now consider this:

Way too often, President Trump does not tell the truth

and he uses lies to deceive and divide us

Note: this comment is clear, bold, documentable and civil. I can (and do) say something like this in internet conversations as well as face to face to people I care about. This is adult conversation.

At Coffee Party USA, we want people to feel free to engage in muscular dialogue about the issues; to disagree and explore their differences; to confront false information and counter it with facts. But we also want our readers to keep an open mind, to be curious about those differences of opinion and to avoid conflating a person with their particular position.

It's hard work. But it is our Coffee Party Way and we remain committed to reach for constructive collaboration across our differences, to disagree agreeably and to respect each other's humanity. Coffee Party's belief in audacious civility may be out of step with society today, but we will continue to plant seeds for tomorrow.

 

Whenever I think of bold civility, I think of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. These are people who show me again and again how to speak clearly and fearlessly into the public conversation. To tell the truth but to do it in such a way that maintains integrity. This kind of attitude and action is what inspires me to keep on reaching for civil, respectful connection with my fellow human beings.

I like this entire interview with Krista Tippett but this one phrase stands out: "All the issues and differences can be in the room, but they don’t define what is possible between us."

I hope I will always challenge my own thinking, grow in my awareness and be willing to change my opinions. I hope I will never be afraid to honestly engage the issues and differences with people.

Adventurous, bold, courageous civility allows me to do that: engage differences with confident humility and infinite hope for "what is possible between us."

 

Find the full interview here at the On Being website.

 

Charlotte Coyle serves on the Coffee Party USA Board of Directors. She also blogs about the intersections of faith, politics and culture at her website and on her Intersections Facebook page.


How to Talk to "Those People"

Civil conversation is hard.

Whenever people in a multifaceted, multicultural civilization try to have a civil discussion, things can get complicated very quickly. Our past experiences, our societal conditioning, our moral assumptions can place us in very different worlds when it comes to communicating. We talk to each other—sometimes using identical vocabulary—but we discover that words don’t necessarily mean the same things for people whose very lives function with an entirely different complex of meaning than our own. This happens in every day normal dialogue, so consider how challenging it is to carry on a meaningful conversation when deeply held values are at stake.

Civility is hard. These days, some people think it hardly matters. But it does.

As a pastor, I have done my share of marriage counseling, family counseling, congregational conflict counseling. Two things are particularly important when I help people find a peaceful way through painful differences: one is honesty and the other is respect.

Honesty demands that we speak clearly about the issues that spark our own passion.

Respect demands that we listen deeply in order to understand the issues that spark the passion of another.

Honestly does not mean saying whatever we think and feel and believe in a disrespectful manner. Respect does not mean hiding the truth of what we think or feel or believe just because we may offend. In a civil conversation, we say what we think with words that invite ongoing discussion and we respect the humanity of the other person enough to hear them out no matter how much we may disagree with what they say. ( I repeat: we respect the humanity of the person even when we disagree with their words and ideas.)

I found some helpful suggestions for civil conversation recently. David Gushee, an ethicist at Mercer University writing for the Baptist News Global, reflected on a recent lecture by Professor Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law and church-state expert—and a practicing Jew. That may sound like a joke (an ethicist, a Baptist and a Jew walk into a bar…) but Gushee loves to write (as I do) about intersections between faith, culture and politics and he thought Brownstein’s speech on Civility and Tolerance When Absolutes Clash was “riveting” and “brilliant.”

(David Gushee went on to reflect on the recent clashes concerning “religious freedom” laws using Brownstein’s guidelines of civility and tolerance. I think his essay is quite helpful. Read more here.)

How does one engage in civil conversation with honesty and respect when our core values seem to be dishonored by someone else’s deeply held beliefs? It’s hard. But Brownstein offers these guidelines:

Neither side may trivialize or dismiss the concerns of the other.

Neither side should define the “other” according to one single characteristic or identity marker.

Both sides should aim to help each other understand their own experience and perspective using a type of speech that can be heard by the other.

Both sides should accept the fundamental ground rule of life in a free society: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

That statement made me stop and read it again: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

Professor Brownstein went on to highlight the fundamental role of fear in situations of public conflict that we end up facing in our culture, politics, and law:

The fear of being excluded from full participation in public discourse or public life;

The fear that the other side is trying to coerce change of my side’s core identity;

The fear that the other side will use the power of law to force my side’s conformity with beliefs and practices that we find abhorrent.

The fear of losing or betraying deeply valued relationships of love, either with the Divine or with people, or both.

I find Brownstein’s guidelines helpful on several levels. His first suggestions are practical and workable. I’ve said for years that “communication is a skill to be learned.” Talk-To-Me-Image-300x233From the time we were babies, learning to speak, learning how to discern language, learning that some behaviors communicated an invitation to relationship while other behaviors alienated—from our earliest years, we have been learning how to communicate with others.

And we’re not done yet; we will never be done with learning and improving. Brownstein reminds us that there are many down-to-earth kinds of things we can do (and refrain from doing) that can help us speak and help us listen.

The other thing I like is Professor Brownstein’s insight about the covert power of fear. This rings true for me. When I think I am in danger in some way—my reputation, my ideas, my “truth,” my deeply held beliefs—then I am tempted to respond to another with defensiveness and attack. But whenever I step back and consider that the other person is struggling with their own fears—even if from a very different perspective than mine—then I am more inclined to work from the “honesty-respect” paradigm. Whenever I consider the very real possibility that I could be wrong (or at least partly wrong and only partly right) then I am more able to give others the liberty to be different and to act wrongly in my eyes. (I've written about this before in my blog: Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely.)

My volunteer work with the Coffee Party USA has reminded me how uncivil our communication patterns have become in America in this 21st century. Maybe it’s the political climate. Maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace. Maybe it’s a devaluing of common courtesy across the broad spectrum of our society. Maybe it’s our culture’s dualism that tends to categorize people and ideas into boxes marked: black or white, right or wrong. Maybe we all are living with too much fear. Whatever is going on, incivility is damaging us in deep ways and it’s time to turn this around.

Some people won’t care; they are in this to “win” by using speech as a weapon that destroys its opponents (as Dr. Brownstein points out.) 6a00d8341c500653ef012877186c7e970c-800wi

But lots of us do care; we want to find ways to employ honest, respectful civil dialogue as a tool for breaking down walls and building bridges. We who share this commitment are the ones who carry the greater responsibility to model civility and to persevere in actually acting like civilized people.

We’re not so far-gone that we can’t improve our skills of speaking and listening.

We’re not so hardened that we have lost our ability to respect our shared humanity—even for an adversary.

We’re not so inept that we can’t express our honest differences of opinion with courtesy and civility.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

 

 

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She also volunteers at Coffee Party USA and currently serves on the Board of Directors.

 


Make America Great -- Again? Or for the First Time?

It echoes my belief before I learned that the America referenced was a myth -- that some Americans never thought this dream was possible for them and actively excluded them.  The America described is the American dream I was promised and may never see.  I cry for the loss of honor and trust in human beings and our institutions, as witnessed on news and social media stories. I cry because I know that the American dream, expressed in just a few sentences, may never be a reality. After all, it’s up to us -- each one of us and all of us -- to choose what our country is and what it will be.

I know without doubt that I’m here -- in this specific time and place -- to assist us in the United States to make a conscious choice about our future. The social contract designed for us following WWII, where we created middle class prosperity, no longer works. We’re divided against ourselves, manipulated by forces we cannot see. I mourn for that lost culture in which I believed - but not for the empty or broken promises made to my fellow Americans. I am hopeful that what comes forward from the ashes of this broken system will work for most (or better yet, all) Americans.

This simple scene from The Newsroom does get something right -- our country is broken.  And in the words delivered brilliantly by Jeff Daniels, provides me with hope and inspiration that we can repair our country. The monologue provides a means by which we can evaluate our progress and our success by tracking things that actually matter like literacy and life expectancy and infant mortality. How we measure our success will dictate our new contract. So let’s track things besides the GDP and include livability and happiness factors.

Living a full, meaningful life is a universal human dream--not just American. And we all deserve the chance to have it.

Script excerpt from The Newsroom, written by Aaron Sorkin

“...there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world..."
Continue reading at the Bridge Alliance website here.

 

By Debilyn Molineaux, Director Emerita of Coffee Party USA and Co-Director of Bridge Alliance


We Need To Talk: It’s Time to Create and Fund Our Future

The weakest part of our country is our willingness to live in a narrative/news stream that confirms our own bias and demonizes others. We could make our collective work exponentially more effective by fostering strong relationships among people of different viewpoints.

Our current frayed social fabric is the result of “winner take all” politics, party loyalty over patriotism and is exacerbated by attacks from foreign influencers who manipulate us through social media and propaganda. Only We the People can change our attitudes and behavior to stop it.

Foundations have spent or committed $4.1 billion since 2011 to strengthen our democratic republic. And yet, the results are not recognizable to the average American.

What will it take to continue to progress the ideals of our country and the future we want to create in this environment of turmoil and chaos? .................... Continue reading at the IVN website here.

 

Debilyn Molineaux is Director Emerita at Coffee Party USA and Co-Director of Bridge Alliance


The Lies That Divide Us

I remember clearly why I engaged again. In 2007 all I saw, particularly on social media, which was not nearly as developed as it is now, was divisive approaches to conversation.  People in full attack.  Attacking their family and friends and neighbors.  For a long time I refused to read comments on any article that I happen to read.  One day I was reading how a high school had held the diploma or two students who were graduating solely on the basis of each of their families cheering for them when each of their names were called.  I hated what had happened to these two young ladies.  The story spoke about how for each of these graduating students, it was the first time anyone in their families had succeeded in school.  I then made the mistake of violating my own rule and started reading the comments.  I was appalled, and then furious at what I was reading. One girl was Spanish and one girl was black.  Didn't matter to me. It sure did in the comment section.

I was taken aback at the nastiness of the comments.  The direct attacks on the ethnicity and culture of each girl and the demeaning nature of so many comments.  It was one of the beginnings of why I decided to walk through the advocacy door again.

Then a woman and a black man ran against each other in the Democratic Primary.  It was obvious that history was going to happen.  Either we would have an ethnically diverse man or a woman running for President of the United States in 2008 on one side of the aisle, for the first time.  Candidate Obama intrigued me based on his platform.  He was calling out the behavior of our government in many of the ways that I was.   Specifically, he attacked the constitutionality of surveillance, war powers, the patriot act, drone warfare and executive overreach.  It was exciting to me.  Besides the expansion of our society to have diversity and inclusiveness in every way, I am a believer in liberty and our constitutional protections,  As an advocate g


Remembering President G.H.W. Bush

There is no era that is not informed by and built upon the ashes of our past. Our belief in the integrity of our system was dealt additional blows under his watch. We have yet to recover.

As humans, we punish our elected officials when they disappoint us. And we punished him with a 1-term presidency. His thousand points of light will be remembered along side his broken promise of no new taxes and war mongering. Yet he was not afraid to be wrong or to admit it. If only we had such humility in ourselves and our elected officials today. And if only we chose to honor the humanity we see in each other instead of issuing punishing rebukes.

While his term included more civility of manners than we witness today, the civility of morality was compromised and questioned. Today, as we honor his life and contributions, the ritual of a state funeral brings us a moment of respite and self-reflection. May we take the lessons of his life as a lesson to us all. And may we live each day towards the memories others will hold of us.

~Debilyn Molineaux, Coffee Party USA past president and Director Emerita

December 5, 2018


When a Coffee Party Facebook follower said: "Enough of this centrist BS." No sir, Not Nearly Enough

I used to never, ever read the comments people make in cyberspace. We've all heard how toxic the conversation can be when commenters get to say whatever they want with the safety of distance and anonymity of the internet.

But now I read the comments and - besides the ugliness - I'm discovering some hopeful respectful connections in places I never would have imagined.

I volunteer with Coffee Party USA and one of my jobs is to post blogs and articles to our Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page. A dozen of us editors keep the page populated with content we believe is worthy of discussion, every hour on the hour, 24/7. Our Coffee Party Facebook page has over a million followers and we volunteers take our work very seriously. The things I post usually don't garner much attention since I circulate articles that encourage people to disagree agreeably, to respect differences and to collaborate constructively.

In today's polarized, angry culture, you can bet a message of civility will fall on deaf ears much of the time.

But I had an experience recently on our Join the Coffee Party Movement page that completely blindsided me ...

Keep reading at Intersections: Faith Politics Culture

 

 

 

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and her Intersections Facebook page. She is a retired minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has served as national president for Coffee Party USA. Charlotte also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach at her Living in The Story website.


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