By Kevin Daniels
All around the country, people are attempting to make sense of the lack of civility from the White House to Main Street.
According to The Nationwide Survey on Civility in America, since 2010 there has been a steady decline among Americans concerning the problem of civility. Among those who report ever experiencing incivility, encounters are frequent, averaging 10.6 times per week. Online interactions slightly edge out in-person interactions (5.4 vs. 5.2). More disturbingly, the frequency of uncivil encounters has risen dramatically since 2016, especially around the issues of politics, race relations, police shootings of Black men/women, religion, immigration, abortion, gun laws, transgender bathroom laws, kneeling or not standing during the national anthem, workplace sexual harassment, climate change, Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, identity partisan politics, and Charlottesville protests. Many in the study stated that leadership has a responsibility to set the tone for civil encounters and experiences.
However, President Donald Trump recently received widespread bipartisan condemnation for denouncing his own U.S. intelligence in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his incivility in calling NATO allies delinquent. Even in Baltimore, a police investigation is underway due to an officer declining involvement when two firefighters made a call concerning a suspect tossing a gun in the bushes – the officer said: “it was not her district” and allegedly didn’t even place another call for an officer in that district.
Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle condemned the uncivil video response of the officer stating that “if you wear this uniform and badge, you have the civil responsibility to serve any place in the city.” Many wondered if this was an isolated action of the officer or is this the normal behavior of officers; however, according to a recent USA Today report, since 2015, in fact Baltimore police in every part of the city appeared to turn a blind eye to everyday violations while the surge of shootings and killings that followed left Baltimore easily the deadliest large city in the United States.
To that end, reimagining civility in what appears to be a uncivil society is critical for the progression of the society at large. Many have attempted to codify general rules for a civil society over the years but have then gone on to allow for and support the dehumanization of people of color, women, and what the sacred prophetic book calls “the other.” However, if civility is to be reimagined, it must consider the Commandments of Public Civility such as:
- Do not rudely interrupt a colleague midsentence; nor “speak over” a colleague while she or he is speaking,
- Do not assume that shrillness of tone is a substitute for substantive dialogue,
- Do resort to “zingers” designed solely to embarrass your target,
- Do not allow legitimate critique of policy and practice to become a personal attack aimed at the person who devised the policy or implements the practice, and
- Do not ridicule or belittle a colleague, or a member of the public, simply because he or she disagrees with you on an issue;
However, reimagining civility in the city and around the country we must also be prepared to go beyond just “civil commandments” to activism and developing what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deemed as a “Beloved Community” of reconciliation of the human ethos and redemptive acts of human progress and achievement. The “Beloved Community” was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the peaceable kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony, but the “beloved community” is a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to what is now considered “societal and human respectability,” human uplift, and a societal change that reflects the same. Moreover, Jim Nelson Black said a nation begins to die when it has allowed the social, cultural and moral respectability of its people to begin to decay.
In reimagining civility in what appears for most to be an uncivil society, there must be an intentional reboot in our public discourse that allows for no one to be fractured or paralyzed in their endeavors towards access and emerging opportunities. The prophetic and sacred book calls for us, “Not to let unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Dr. Kevin Daniels is the Chair of the Civic Action Committee (Minister’s Conference Baltimore/Vicinity), Associate Professor, Morgan State University (Social Work) Pastor, St. Martin Church.
The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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