I’ve been reflecting on the concept of civility a great deal lately. The topic is not new to me — I was a professional communicator for 25 years before becoming a state legislator, so I’ve always been tuned into how we communicate with one another, and how it can impact our culture and collaborative problem solving.
Earlier this year, I held a town hall in my district centered around the concept of civility, in an effort to create a space where my community could bridge the political divide and learn how to come together to constructively discuss the issues that are important to us.
Now, as we all face the common threat of the COVID19 pandemic, civility is more crucial than ever.
The crisis has, in many ways, brought out the best in the people of our state. Everyday Coloradans are making sacrifices for the common good. Neighbors are helping neighbors meet their basic needs to stay healthy and safe. With the threat of COVID19 looming over all of us, it feels like most of us are pulling in the right direction against something that’s bigger than we are. And I absolutely believe that when we work together for the same goal, we can solve any problem.
Of course, there are those who have used the pandemic as cover for terrible, uncivil behavior. Recently I joined my House and Senate Democratic colleagues on an open letter condmemning the incidences of hatred, bigotry and discrimination that we have seen during this pandemic.
It’s important to call out bad behavior when we see it, but if we want to make sure that our communities, our state and our country overcome challenges as great as this pandemic, we’ll have to take it one step further.
Nurturing and encouraging civility in our discourse and public life is the proactive next step we need to take in order to overcome the polarization that has gripped us.
According to a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, 85% of Americansthink that political debate has become less civil in recent years. This political polarization leads to more than uncomfortable dinner conversations. Our political parties have become more ideologically divided, leading political independents to participate less frequently in politics.
In my opinion, this leads to worse policy outcomes. It makes political compromise harder to achieve and leads to stagnation, and our communities suffer because of it.
So what can we do about it? What recourse do we have for a better way forward? I believe it is treating each other with civility, and remembering that while you might disagree with someone’s ideology, you likely share many of the same goals and other things in common.
I have many friends who think differently than I do, and I always strive to remember the things we have in common — our love for our families and the desire to create a better future for our children. We just might disagree on how to get there.
The Institute for Civility in Government defines civility as “more than just politeness, though politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking (and finding) common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements.”
I quite like this definition. It acknowledges that civility means hard work, and that it does not mean letting go of one’s deeply held convictions. We can be passionate advocates for our cause while still seeking common ground and engaging others with respect.
Social psychologists suggest setting shared, “superordinate” goals in policymaking and focusing on policies rather than parties in order to combat polarization.
Learning, exercising and perfecting civil and respectful dialogue, coupled with a focus on shared objectives like “community betterment” is what will allow us as a community, as a state and as a country to meet and overcome the great challenges that come our way.
And particularly now, when we are going to have to work together to help Coloradans recover — mentally, physically and financially — from this pandemic, it is essential that we work together.
I, for one, pledge to practice and aim for civility in my daily life, in my work as a lawmaker, and in my role as an engaged citizen. I know it won’t be easy, and I know I’ll make mistakes, but I will always work to see each person as a worthy individual, separate from our partisan perspectives. And I invite you to do the same.
If you are interested in learning more or working on your own skills in civil communications, I invite you to visit braverangels.org.
State Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Morrison, is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from the 25th district in Jefferson County.
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