I’m exhausted! If I hear another political advertisement, I just might scream. I have heard this sentiment again and again from just about everyone I know. And yet, many of us (most?) cared deeply about the midterm elections. We cared about the candidates that we supported and the issues that were before us. We may have even donated, volunteered or canvassed to assist their elections. And yet the rhetoric that we were bombarded by felt abhorrent. Yes, there were some fiery ads that were fine, but there were so many others that were full of lies, distortions, innuendos and threats. Fear, hate and divisiveness were at their core.
What happened to civility? What happened to respect, regard for human differences and honest listening? I’ve recently reread P.M. Forni’s inspiring book, “Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct.” It’s truly a beautiful book and one that I often referred to as a career middle-school counselor.
These rules for civility embrace all aspects of human behavior, and they quite frankly make the world and workplace feel safer, gentler and more constructive. Certainly, schools are places where these values are necessary. We know that students learn best when they feel safe, nurtured and respected.
And now a certain politician has thrown his hat in the ring for an election almost two years away. His behaviors, verbiage and gestures are the antithesis of civility. An abject bully who does not shy away from racist comments, sexual stereotypes, homophobia, misogyny and blatant meanness is now back, front and center in our news cycle. I’m sure that I’m not alone to be profoundly disgusted and appalled by the out and out lies and the threat to democracy that is implicit in his statements.
If only we could require our public officials to practice the art of civility and adhere to the 25 rules of civility, according to P.M. Forni:
1. Pay attention.
2. Acknowledge others.
3. Think the best.
5. Be inclusive.
6. Speak kindly.
7. Don’t speak ill.
8. Accept and give praise.
9. Respect even a subtle “No.”
10. Respect others’ opinions.
11. Mind your body.
12. Be agreeable.
13. Keep it down (and rediscover silence).
14. Respect other people’s time.
15. Respect other people’s space.
16. Apologize earnestly.
17. Assert yourself.
18. Avoid (unnecessary) personal questions.
19. Care for your guests.
20. Be a considerate guest.
21. Think twice before asking favors.
22. Refrain from idle complaints.
23. Accept and give constructive criticism.
24. Respect the environment and be gentle to animals.
25. Don’t shift responsibility and blame.
It’s a relatively simple list, but strikingly pure and powerful if you take the time to study the principles and ideals that underlie each of them. Most of us do practice civility in our private lives and know that these behaviors are essential in our professional lives if we are to make an impact and lead with strength, compassion and genuine leadership. Why can’t we hold every political leader to this same level of expectations? Many public leaders already do this.