Regional Influencers Consider Civility as a 'Cornerstone for Building Community'

Participants discuss using civility as a tool to help tackle specific community challenges during a session led by C4C at the recent Community Builders Summit in Bend.

Is “civility” a passé concept? Hopefully not now and not ever, noted C4C board members who recently led discussion during an inaugural Ford Family Foundation event.

Civility must not go out of style, they said, because new challenges will always keep coming; and civility is key to helping communities thrive while meeting those challenges.

The Ford Family Foundation’s first annual Community Builders Summit saw influencers from throughout Oregon and Northern California convening earlier this month at the Riverhouse in Bend.

During a 90-minute breakout session,"Civility as a Cornerstone for Community Building,” C4C speakers Robyn Holdman and Jeff Campbell shared the story of how the Sisters Country Civility Project began. They also offered some “civility fundamentals” and then facilitated a discussion on how to put those principles to work to help resolve real-world challenges.

Civility offers a cornerstone upon which to build relationships and trust, Holdman and Campbell noted. Among other benefits, civility helps people work together more constructively, and it encourages broader participation—all measures of strong communities.

In its earliest use, civility referred to exhibiting good behavior for the benefit of a community. And Holdman and Campbell noted that early Greeks considered civility “a private virtue as well as a public necessity that functioned to hold the state together.”

The speakers also dispelled common misconceptions about civility. For example, one does not have to agree to be civil, they noted. Also, civility is not the absence of criticism. In fact, the codes of civility assume people will passionately disagree, they said. Civility simply offers a framework for that dialogue, which is so important to the democratic process.

In contrast, uncivil behavior almost always damages relationships and weakens community participation, Holdman and Campbell said. And ultimately, incivility will diminish community opportunities and drag down local economies.

The break-out session’s about 30 attendees separated into groups to discuss real-life situations that had created conflict or incivility in their communities. Each group chose one situation and developed a plan of action to respectfully address it. They then reported back to the room. Plans of action were considered for: 1.) how to resolve conflict between residents in a co-housing community where residents share some resources and amenities;  2.) fallout from a failed school board bond that would have upgraded facilities; 3) coming to agreement for how to allocate money a community received as part of a high-speed cyber optic installation deal; 4) how to overcome language barriers in local transportation planning; and 5) how to resolve differences between a community’s City officials and the Chamber of Commerce.

Attendees worked to incorporate Sisters Country Civility Project tenets into their plans and public outreach efforts. Those tenets are: Pay Attention, Listen, Be Inclusive, Don’t Gossip, Show Respect, Be Agreeable, Apologize, Give Constructive Criticism and Take Responsibility.

Just like incivility, civility is a conscious action, Holdman and Campbell noted.

“Civility is not an automatic response. It’s a skill that requires practice. And it’s up to you to be the guardian of the tone of your interactions.”

In closing, they suggested, that before you speak, you ask yourself a few questions—questions like:
• Is what I’m about to say respectful?
• Am I aware of the needs of others?
• Will this improve the situation? 
• Am I showing that I can be trusted?

C4C received a lot of positive feedback from the session,” Holdman said, noting that representatives from both Oregon and Northern California expressed interest in having Citizens4Community visit their communities to continue the conversation.