So, if we’re really going to do this “civility” thing we have to understand that we’re not “restoring” something
“Can we all get along?” Rodney King once asked as the streets of LA burned as a result of LA’s Finest literally stomping him into the ground in sight of the whole world only to be found “not guilty,” free to go. Such is life in an uncivil world.
It’s nice to know, though, that in such an in-your-face world as is ours there are people who want to bring some degree of order to it. Like the people with whom I sat at a conference at USD, put on by a movement of people called Restoring Respect, that was all about “Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue.” Restoring Respect believes that we, as a society, can get beyond today’s politics of incivility and work together to “make sure that our public discourse is worthy of a great Republic.”
I can dig it. But we have to be honest with ourselves and not get all caught up in the notion, as one woman did, that “We need to get back to a time when we treated each other with respect.” I almost said out loud, “When we did what? When was that?” Hey, we can’t make changes if we’re going to hallucinate mythical days that never were.
Now, of course, I can only speak to my life experiences but in those nearly 75 years I haven’t seen anything approaching “civility” when it came to “civic dialogue” of any significance. Oh, we’re a polite people, smilers and greeters all, on the whole, civil as all get out, as they say, but once we have a difference with someone over something we hold dear, then it’s Katy Bar the Door. I’ve seen people almost come to blows over what color the tickets should be at the Halloween Carnival. From my observations over time civility doesn’t come easily for human beings.
So, if we’re really going to do this “civility” thing we have to understand that we’re not “restoring” something, that there is no age to which we can return to see how to get along. Rather, we’re at the dawning of pursuing something that’s beautiful in its very idea: A civil society. How hip would that be? It excites me. We get to create something and I’m all about creativity especially when it comes to civility, when it comes to constructing a spirit of peace and tranquility. It’s all I’ve ever done in my life basically.
Isn’t that what civility is: “a spirit,” a feeling that if we’ve got a task that’s important to us that we can get it done in spite of our differences? And it doesn’t mean that you don’t challenge, that you don’t get loud every now and again; you just don’t attack. You treat others with respect.
And, it’s about time that we’re on to this because if we don’t learn to become more civil our children and grand children and great-grand-children won’t learn to become more civil either – but they must for: in a world where drones fly and Al Queda folks multiply and economies die and glaciers bid us bye bye and hurricanes go deeper into the alphabet and tornadoes drop from the sky like flies and citizens are armed to the teeth afraid of their own shadows and nuclear plants straddle fault lines – well, our descendants, with these problems in their forecast, won’t be able to survive as a species if they don’t know how to get along at some highly advanced level of being.
So schools will have to become involved. The children have to feel what we do and be a part of it so they can, as they are wont to do, mimic it and refine it and take it to levels never beheld. Whatever it is.
I enjoyed the conference, listening to ideas like: “We need more dialogue than debate”; “We need to learn how to find common ground”; “We need to learn to think critically regarding matters that affect our overall wellbeing.” Mesa College has a “Mesa be Civil, Pass it On” campaign aimed at steering students’ minds to acts of civility on campus. It’s the baby steps that get things going, isn’t it?
Bob Filner, the mayor, kicked the day off with “You didn’t expect to see me at a conference on civility, did you?” That got a laugh because my friend can be quite feisty, having, just the day before, called the City Attorney out at his news conference for being “unethical and unprofessional” for giving legal advice through the news media – for even having the news conference.
It might be said that there’s a more civil way to deal with one’s attorney than crashing his party, so the mayor like all of us, needs to work on a few things, as we stride towards civility. He, in particular, might need to flex a little less here and there. The use of power doesn’t have to be loud. We’ll need him to set the tone if we’re to become more civil as a city.
And the Union-Tribune, the city’s major source of news, who crucifies the man for practically every move he makes should play a role in this too. They have to find a way to get beyond their outright hatred of the mayor. Editorials titled “Bob Filner: the Mayor of Dysfunction” do very little to promote healthy discourse. Saying that he “ramped up his running feud” with the city attorney could be softened with “Hey, man, why don’t you and the dude sit down and figure this stuff out.”
If they have a problem with him being a “progressive” and think he doesn’t have “a clue when it comes to leadership” then why don’t they give him a clue like civil people do? The problem with the U-T seems to be: We’ve got a mayor who’s making the powers-that-be break into nervous sweats because they’ve become, over time, way over accustomed to having their will be done. And that’s not going to happen with this mayor.
The fat cats in the tourism industry want Bob Filner to sign an agreement with them so they can collect $30 million dollars to market their hotels and various attractions. And Filner says “Deal.” But the deal is you will be required to provide better pay for hotel workers and more money for city coffers. Whoa, that sounds pretty civil to me. A mayor for the people. A first for this city. That we have a mayor who won’t cater to and tap dance to the tunes of the folks with the do-re-mi bothers the hell out of the U-T. They see the days where everything was about the super-moneyed, what they want, what they think, slipping away.
I sense that civility in our society is going to have to occur from the bottom up, based on how we treat each other in our communities as we work on our various projects. If we find ways to respect and honor each other’s basic wishes and needs, our leaders will have to follow. And each of us will have to work on ourselves to become more civil. One of the panelists at the conference pointed out: “The one thing you can change is you.”
With that in mind as I ponder “Can we all get along?” I remember Reginald Denny, a white construction driver, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when the streets of LA erupted. He was beaten severely. But a year later he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show and embraced one of his assailants. That’s compassion. That’s what civility is all about.
For the benefit of our children and the future it will take a lot of Denny’s kind of thinking to do what we have to do. The more civil we become as individuals, the more we can contribute to our communities becoming more civil.
In spite of all the hard work needed it really is that simple. We can all get along.
Photo courtesy of