Holidays are a time to practice civility, which is another way of saying “diplomacy in action” around the table. The French have a unique approach to civility, which might be worth considering. But here in the U.S., just 31 percent “said they were eager to discuss the latest news with their family and friends” according to an NPR/PBS/Marist poll. and 84% surveyed by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate “experienced incivility” with 59% noting that they are giving up paying attention to politics as a result.
How can you enjoy your meal, have an exchange views, and still get along–let alone maybe even learn something?
First, remember civility isn’t Festivus, the airing of grievances. So what is it? Writing in 1997, Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess observe:
In short, any reasonable definition of civility must recognize that the many differing interests which divide our increasingly diverse society will produce an endless series of confrontations over difficult moral and distributional issues. Often these issues will have an irreducible win-lose character and, hence, not be amenable to consensus resolution. While continuing confrontation is inevitable, the enormous destructiveness which commonly accompanies these confrontations is not.
via Beyond Intractability, “The Meaning of Civility”
Mark Shields and David Brooks offered some tactical advice in 2013:
David Brooks: My first tip: if you have a deep-down disagreement about how you were treated at your 13th birthday party, deal with it honestly and don’t submerge it into a political fight. Most family political debates are fought because of deeper family issues. Second, the key to a civil political debate is to consider the likelihood that you’re wrong.
And this useful anecdote when discussing healthcare (or insert difficult issue here):
Let’s start with story about a rabbi who came to the synagogue with two pieces of paper in his pocket. One said the world was created for me and the other said I am nothing but dust and ashes. And the reason the rabbi carried those papers is they were both equally true. So when dealing with health care or any other issue, it’s normal to have two opposing ideas be equally true. In Obamacare, it would cover millions of new people and it’s also true that the website doesn’t work well and it may hurt the economy. So, the big issues are always about balance.
via Holiday guide to civility from Mark Shields and David Brooks | PBS NewsHour
Again, the Burgesses provide these key concepts, as well, all of which are easier said than done:
- Separate people from the problem
- Obtain available facts
- Use fair processes
- Limit escalation
- Honor legitimate uses of legal, political and other power
- Separate win/win from win/lose issues
- Limit the backlash effect
- Keep trying to persuade and allow yourself to be persuaded
Maybe there is a Thanksgiving connection to civility after all–looking back to disagreement and contempt in early American history. In the 1600s, Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, practiced a form of civility that incorporated that Teresa Bejan describes as “mental toughness to tolerate what we perceive as our opponents’ incivility, to live with them and continue to engage, even when we think them irredeemable.” She writes:
As practiced by Williams, mere civility was more often an expression of mutual contempt than mutual admiration. We might recognize it as the virtue governing those unpleasant-but-unavoidable interactions with ex-spouses and bad neighbors, as well as anyone who voted for the other gal (or guy). But even mere civility can be quite demanding: In attempting to understand other minds on the model of our own, people make sense of disagreement by concluding that our opponents are stupid, bigoted, evil or even insane. Yet mere civility demands that we keep the disagreement going, no matter how disagreeable, to continue the battle of words without resorting to violence.
via Post Everything, WaPo, ‘You don’t have to be nice to your political opponents. But you do have to talk to them.”
Incivility isn’t just a dinner table issue–as it can spill over to the economy. There is a cost to incivility, particularly in the workplace. According to Christine Portal and Christine Pearson, writing in HRB, creativity suffers, performance decreases, customers retreat, and, when HR needs to get involved, costs can increase.
Even so, not everyone things civility is essential. Consdier Hillary Clinton’s alienating “basket of deplorables” line, an ongoing discussion of racism and how to address it, as well as Senator Jeff Flake’s assertion, as reported on Daily Beast, that
[those] who do not call out President Donald Trump for incivility are complicit. “There are times when you have to stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry, this is wrong,’” Flake said on CBS’ Face the Nation.
[Watch it on YouTube.]
Good luck… and could you please pass the cranberry sauce?