It’s been more than 10 years since I penned The Civility Pledge. It came out of my despair over the negative tone I was hearing everywhere.
When I wrote the Pledge, I thought the level of rancor was unimaginably high. But since then, we’ve seen and heard civil discourse devolve even further.
The noun civility comes from the word civis, Latin for “citizen.” It means formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech, or polite remarks used in formal conversation.
Civility is important because it helps us get along.
Sheila Suess Kennedy, founder of Indiana University’s Center for Civic Literacy, sums it up perfectly: “We cannot find common ground without civility, and we cannot solve our problems without finding common ground.”
Everyone should practice civility. And, yes: It is a practice.
Something we should strive to achieve every day.
In recent years I’ve come to believe civility is largely, if not completely, an inside job. In other words, our efforts should not be about getting others to behave with civility, but rather to practice it ourselves first and foremost.
To illustrate my thinking, I offer this story:
Soon after writing The Civility Pledge and being completely frustrated by the acrimony in Congress, I decided to mail the pledge to each member of Congress. That’s 535 letters between the Senate and the House. I asked each member to take the pledge.
Not one responded.
That’s when I changed my mind.
Instead of trying to get other people to behave better, I realized it must start with me. I must take personal responsibility, take the Pledge, and then change my ways of thinking and behaving.
Here’s what I’ve learned since creating the Pledge:
- It always starts with me. I can’t change others no matter how hard I try.
- It’s easier to blame “them.” But easier isn’t always better.
- It’s a challenge. A growth opportunity for each of us to rise above the noise that is fueling division.
- Be the change; be the person you can admire
- Most of us think we’re already civil, yet we’re guilty of getting angry at a customer service rep or demonizing someone who is different from us.
So, here’s my invitation to you.
Will you take personal responsibility for being civil?
Practice the golden rule?
Mind your manners as we were taught?
And will you join me in taking The Civility Pledge?
Not so we can change others, but so we can change ourselves.
The Civility Pledge
I pledge to behave with civility, treating myself and others with respect and consideration.
I pledge to show compassion and curiosity.
I pledge to be gracious, honest, authentic, and wholly present –
right here, right now.
I pledge to invite others to take the Pledge and to engage in intentional and civil conversations.
The solution is simple. It starts with me. And it starts now.
My job is to take the high road, to put myself in others’ shoes. And to hold my judgmental thoughts and actions, remembering to choose to be part of the solution, not the problem.