Civility: a Win

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Civility -Where is it?

The month of August, deemed Win with Civility Month, promotes and celebrates taking the high road. Everywhere I look these days, I see so many situations that need a hefty dose of civility. One of our basic human needs is power and significance. We have a strong drive to be in control, to be right and to make a difference; it’s built into our genetic instructions for the survival of the species—the strong survive. In the early beginnings of the human race, we needed to be stronger than whatever was threatening to harm us. However, in 2020, if we are still trying to physically beat our opponents, we can find ourselves behind bars or certainly without friends.

Whether it’s the upcoming election, Black Lives Matter, your position on the economic crisis or mask-wearing, there are many topics to be in conflict over; this has always been true, but 2020 has been testing us on a great scale, from many directions. Of course, people typically feel passionate about whatever their position is. When someone from the left tries to tell someone from the right that Donald Trump is our worst president ever, they usually reply with, “He’s done more for our country than any other president.” People from the right try to convince people from the left that Trump needs to be reelected and if Biden gets in, America will be taken over by socialists. No one is listening and everyone is either yelling or feeling silenced.

People are being accosted over masks. To wear or not to wear—what is your position? The mask-wearers claim those who don’t wear masks are putting their health at risk; those who don’t wear masks say their individual freedoms are being violated and if you don’t like it, you can stay out of their way. I read of a store clerk who asked a man in the store to please wear a mask and he rammed her with his grocery cart!

Where is the civility? And that’s even before we get to Black Lives Matter and what’s happening between individuals on the opposite side of that issue. People are getting injured, arrested and even dying. Our country is being pulled apart by opposing views with no one attempting to listen and search for solutions that can work. We have reverted to the behavior of Neanderthals!

This must stop before we create such a divide that there will no longer be a way to bridge it. We need some ground rules for civil conversations. We need to use our ears and the brains in our heads more than our mouths.

I think the biggest problem is that the human need for power is manifesting in each of us as the need to be correct, to have the last word and feel successful in making the opposing thinkers to come to their senses and see what we see. We have an innate desire to control everything around us; wouldn’t life be wonderful if everyone could agree with what we believe? Wake up! That isn’t going to happen. We need to find ways to coexist with different beliefs and opinions. Our Democracy was made for that. One person; one vote. Winner serves their term and then we vote again. Winners feel good and losers know they’ll have to put up with it until the next election.

I have civil conversations with people who are different from me all the time. I rather enjoy it. My number one rule in my conversations is that I am already an expert on one thing before we start talking: my thoughts and opinions. What I am usually ignorant of is the other person’s thoughts and opinions. I don’t need to talk more about mine; I need to listen to understand the other person’s perspective. My ultimate goal is to have influence. And when I say “influence,” I don’t mean that I have any special powers to change anyone’s mind. Influence simply means that when I talk with people, perhaps they will hear me differently than as just another opponent. Maybe they will be able to hear me because we have made a connection. I don’t need anyone to change their position to agree with me; I only want to be heard. I have come to realize people won’t hear me until I can hear them first.

When I listen—really listen to understand, rather than listening to respond—I almost always find we have more in common than we have differences. I typically find we want a lot of the same outcomes, but only disagree on the methods. Methods can be worked out.

And on those occasions where we have fundamental, irreconcilable differences, we can recognize we still maintain our own opinions after the conversation but we have been changed by the exchange; the connection opens those involved up to the possibility that there is more than one way to look at the issue. It may not be as black and white as we believe. There may or may not be people pulling the strings. There may or may not be “fake news” stories. People may be lying. Perhaps we are both wrong and maybe the truth lies somewhere in between or far, far away.

Remember to look into the eyes of the person you are speaking with and see their good intent. We are not horrible people. We simply have a different hierarchy of values, which means we’ll see the world differently based on what’s most important to us. That doesn’t make anyone a horrible person. It just means someone disagrees with your views and opinions. For every photo, video and article one group can find supporting their side, there is an equal number supporting the other side.

Something we can probably agree on is rooting out whatever subversive forces there are that are attempting to have us hating one another. Who has a vested interest in the American people fighting each other so much we tear ourselves about from the inside out? I don’t know the answer, but I bet if we could work together, we could find out.

We need to stop trying to change everyone’s mind to come over to our way of thinking. Instead of working to change others, work to understand them. It’s one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Remember, relationship is the root of all influence. Work at moving closer together instead of pulling ourselves apart. Our very survival as a democracy may depend on it.

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