Letter: True civility is not about shutting up


Independence. We pride ourselves as Americans that our country was established on the principle of freedom.

When the founders were hashing out the details of our government, they were passionate, determined, and full of new, untested ideas. There was a great deal of conflict as they fought to be heard and to create a country based on the vision of a constitutional representative democracy, a republic based on democratic elections.

It was an exciting time. A frightening time. And, in some ways, an angry time.

Anger is natural during such events — a God-given emotion letting us know that something needs to change. But there is so much to be angry about right now, that we have forgotten how to be civil and actually hear each other.

In our work to restore civility in public discourse, we (Civility First… So We Can Work Together) hear from all sorts of people who “aren’t ready to make nice.”

We hear about how “they” (on the other side) don’t deserve our civility, or about how civility is “just a way to tell me to shut up.”

Civility is seen as yet another demand intended to tamp down emotions and to tuck things under the rug, so we can stop making anyone uncomfortable.

But civility — true civility — is the opposite. It is a tool to help those who do not want to listen, to listen. It is a strategy that allows an individual to state something important to them, and be heard.

Civility is not about shutting up. It is about valuing this country so much that, in this moment in time when uncertainty and illness and grief and death are pushing us to our emotional edges, we can step bravely forward and listen to those whose point of view is different from our own.

To, as our forefathers did, have our opposing opinions, but to be passionate in a way that our voice can be heard by all.

When that emotional edge manifests as anger, we are probably not angry as much about wearing a mask as about having another piece of control taken away; or perhaps at feeling helpless because we are worried about where the rent will come from.

Or that anger may be about watching a black man lose his life, in a heinous and undeserved manner.

Anger at injustice or helplessness is normal. It’s normal to be angry when our efforts to create a world where we can thrive are being obstructed — whether by a virus, a stay-at-home order, or by watching a fellow human being having his life callously extinguished at the hands of a public servant we should be able to trust. Anger is a powerful, appropriate response.

And we are having it.

Next, we need to use our anger to drive our willingness to create solutions. Our anger should give us energy, and make us determined to see change. Not just the talk of change, but genuine change.

Change that creates places and systems where people can flourish.

Creating those kinds of changes will require civility. Civility so that we actually listen to each other. Civility so that we can disagree and share experiences in ways that clarify and enrich our thinking.

Civility within which we can see shared values and explore how best to operationalize those values. Just as the founding fathers did.

At this moment in history, we need our anger to be paired with civility. They are both tools for creating a better city, a better island, a better future for our country.

Board of Directors,

Civility First … So We Can Work Together

Kate Bracy, Clinton; Charlotte Fairfield, Coupeville; Sandi Peterson, Oak Harbor; Charles Terry, Langley; Cathy Whitmire, Clinton; and Gary Wray, Coupeville

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