During my time in Somerset Hall at the University of Maryland the word “civility” and the phrase “be civil” probably came up dozens of times. Being in a dorm with a group of students with different beliefs, we engaged in many discussions and debates about issues political and otherwise. Because we saw each other every day, we had to keep our conversations civil to avoid burning bridges and making enemies. Even though we had different political beliefs, we could co-exist peacefully because we recognized that there is more to a person than their political beliefs.
Recently, there has been an uptick in discussion of civility in regards to political speech and protests due to the multiple incidents of uncivil actions taken by political dissenters. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family were kicked out of a Red Hen and then followed to another restaurant by the Red Hen employees. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was shouted of a restaurant by protestors. Tomi Lahren got a drink thrown on her while having brunch with her mother. The list goes on. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Maxine Waters told her supporters to confront Cabinet members and make it known that they are not welcome anywhere. This is not the way political disagreement should be handled. We should instead encourage nonviolent protest, polite dialogue, and civil discussions.
Civility, in my view, is conducting yourself in an appropriate manner and expressing disagreements assertively without intentionally inciting violence. This doesn’t mean that you have to let people walk all over you, but it also doesn’t mean picking fights with whoever challenges your ideas. Civility also means recognizing that there will be disagreements, but that people can still get along and express those disagreements frankly without fear of unjust recourse. There are some ideologies and philosophies that are so driven by hate that it is appropriate to banish them to the dungeon of our society, but that represents the small minority of the groups. Overall, we should tend to discuss ideas and policies that are different than our preferences in order to expand our knowledge and challenge the status quo.
I have seen arguments that civility is linked to white privilege because minorities cannot afford to be civil because their progress has mostly happened due to incivility. This argument fails to recognize the impact of civil disobedience, legislation, and court decisions that have progressed society through actions of civility. The bus boycott in Montgomery, AL forced the city to integrate its buses. The March in Selma, AL brought nationwide attention to the issue of race and police violence and gave a foundation for Rep. John Lewis to build a career advocating for civil rights. The passage of the Civil Rights Act was spurred on by civil demonstrations, especially the March on Washington in 1963. It was also a family following the rules of the legal system that led to the integration of public schools in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Meanwhile, I struggle to see the progress that has been made by the uncivil actions taken by many of these groups. The Watts riots did not lead to major political changes. The Rodney King riots may or may not have influenced the Not Guilty verdict in the OJ Simpson trial, but it did not bring an end to police brutality. Neither did the demonstrations in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD. Taking actions in an uncivil way gives fuel to the opposition to point to those actions as demonstrative of the whole instead of the exception, which then quickly turns into mudslinging.
Just because someone voted for a different candidate than you does not mean that they are your enemy. There are a wide variety of reasons for choosing a candidate to support or a party identification and it does not mean that a person will agree with everything a candidate says or the party represents. Differences in politics should not be a wedge that drives people apart because most of the time it is simply opinions and not related to actions. There’s a difference between a person who says they are pro-life and a person who shouts at people going into Planned Parenthood. There’s a difference between a person who disagrees with a conservative speaker and a person who blasts white noise so loud that the conservative speaker cannot talk to his audience.
It is healthy to have different views on politics. That is how we get compromise and progress. However, if we let those differences cause us to ostracize the opposition, then we risk separating into our own echo chambers, limiting progress and severely restricting compromises. If someone has an uninformed point of view on an issue, let them voice it and then point out why it is uninformed. There are many ways to advocate for the causes important to you without being uncivil: Write to your representative, sign a petition, donate money, go to a march, join an organization that supports your cause, run for office, etc. These methods are much more effective for forwarding progress than harassing families while they eat or throwing water on a person with whom you disagree. It is great that we live in a place where we can openly express our disagreements with each other, so let’s help preserve that privilege by being civil to one another.
Do you agree? If you have any ideas for a topic you want to discuss or have any questions you want me to answer, you can reach out to me on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would appreciate it if you leave a comment to let me know what you think. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back here soon.