Civility is defined simply as “polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior.” The words used to define civility hint at what it is about right away - it boils down to basic human decency and respect towards others.
I’ve noticed, though, that throughout my time in college and, more specifically, over the last year or so with the onset of the presidential election, that civil conversations have all but disappeared. I’m sure you’ve been around a group of people having a polite conversation only to have it dissolve into an almost physical altercation at the mention of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or simply noticed the way people treat those they disagree with. The “if you support Trump, unfriend me now” posts have become all too common on social media, and vary from political issues to moral issues to rather irrelevant pop culture issues. Whether you like Hillary or you like the Kardashians, shouldn’t your friends be able to see past that and agree to disagree? More importantly, shouldn’t they like something about you as a person enough to continue to be friends even after a heated discussion?
Civility is important in all realms of life. One should be civil to those they know personally as well as strangers, to police officers on the street and to the elderly who may need a hand with their groceries. Civility is, essentially, what the concept of America was built upon. Neighbors helping neighbors, and democracy letting everyone have a say - even if things don’t end up going how you’d like them to.
Why, then, have we let civility fade into the background?
Bringing up politics is a sure way to see the lack of civility in our day to day conversations, but this problem doesn't end there. As I mentioned, I have seen this on numerous occasions in my classes at school - classes that are often built around having hearty discussions. The class that I took this summer has been one of the most frustrating ones I have taken in regards to a lack of civility. As a creative writing student, my classes often revolve around critique and discussion. While it’s not always fun to have your work critiqued, it’s helpful to get feedback and it’s helpful to give feedback. Knowing both sides of the situation is important - something that people tend to forget about and which also leads to this decline in civility. Some of the guidelines for public critiques of each student’s work in my classes are to think through what you are going to say thoroughly, and to avoid being harsh. As several of my professors have stated, “I love this,” is nice but utterly useless, and “I hate this,” is downright rude and equally as useless. To successfully have a conversation - yes, even a conversation in which the goal is to point out areas of weakness in an argument - civility must be present. Everyone must have the opportunity to have their voice heard and to offer productive feedback.
In my summer class, though, this method of providing critiques has been a bit of a failure. The students in this class struggled with letting each other finish their sentences so, as you can imagine, honest yet productive feedback almost never was given. People must respect you in order to take your opinion seriously (another one of the words in the definition of civility). Speaking louder than everyone so that your voice can be heard above the noise does not bring about respect. Interrupting those who are speaking to say the exact thing they were saying but in your own words does not make your opinion more valid. Saying “I love this,” “I hate this,” or “This is boring,” without any other feedback does not add weight to your feedback. None of this garners respect, none of this facilitates learning, and none of this is civil.
To take this back to the political realm, this election has caused some of the deepest division amongst Americans in a long time. I’ve noticed often how people struggle to have a civil conversation when they are so passionately against what the person they are talking to is for. It’s hard - I know it is - but that doesn’t mean we can’t be civil about it.
I attend the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Donald Trump came to have a political rally at my school recently, and I noticed some of this firsthand. The mere fact that he was going to step foot on our campus instantly started debates between some people and there were, of course, protests. The right to protest is a right that everyone has in the United States - I understand that - but sometimes I wonder if the protest mentality does any good. While there were protesters chanting outside, my coworkers and I were having civil conversations inside. We talked about the different things we each believe and the different reasons we do or do not like Trump. The funny thing is, we all have very different political views. We were still able to politely talk about what was happening on the lawn in front of Cragmor Hall (where the protestors were situated) as well as what was happening inside of Gallogly Events Center (where Trump was speaking) without any hostility.
It was interesting watching what was taking place outside (and filming it) and then comparing it to what was happening around me. Civil conversation can take place - it did that day in my workplace - but I don’t think holding big signs and repeating anti-Trump slogans really helped anything. The event was still filled to capacity, those who didn’t like Trump still don’t, and, more importantly, those who do like Trump still do.
I think that we all need to evaluate our own perspectives on certain issues, but we also need to evaluate how we let our perspective come across. Do we let a disagreement escalate into a crazy demonstration, or do we simply agree to disagree? We’re not going to be able to convince everyone around us to come to our side - that just won’t happen. Human beings are strong, both physically and mentally. Only those who are not fully sure of what they believe will change their view. That doesn’t mean we can’t have conversations, but it does mean that we should be kind with our words and actions.
Just because you disagree with someone, doesn’t mean you need to start a protest. When you see something you don’t agree with, you don’t even have to say anything. Stand strong in your convictions, but don’t let your beliefs make you ignorant to what others have to say. Don’t let politics and controversy reduce your conversations to argumentative drivel. We all have things we agree on and things that we don’t and that’s okay. It’s how you present your beliefs and counter the beliefs of others that matters.
Let’s be civil. Let’s bring back civil conversations.