The auditorium at USM’s Hannaford Hall was filled with over 100 hopeful Mainers last Friday morning at the launch of Maine’s Initiative to Revive Civility and Respect. I was one of those people.
Briefly, the National Institute for Civil Discourse from the University of Arizona has selected Maine as one of four states to participate in an intensive year-long effort to help people improve the way they talk and listen to one another. Last Friday’s gathering was the State of Maine’s Kickoff.
Somehow, we’ve lost the art of mutual respect, understanding, listening and collaboration. We’ve become accusatory, reactive and “keyboard warriors” - demonizing others with whom we disagree or believe to be in the wrong, instead of taking a moment to listen or to reflect upon our own biases and errors in thought.
Civil discourse has become my passion the past couple of years because I hope that we can return to some form of regard towards one another. I hope we all can find ways to passionately speak a personal truth and be heard - and perhaps more importantly - to hear and seek understanding from an opposing viewpoint without outrage, as well as being able to hear another’s perspective and disagree gracefully.
I think it was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So, I suppose that means that if I want to turn the boat of incivility around, I must begin with being civil myself. Since last Friday, I have observed my actions and thoughts. I have learned that being civil is not easy.
In the past week, I have been in a couple of situations in which I was mortified at the responses of others. At one point, I wanted to do what is now - unfortunately - the norm. I wanted to scream to be heard and was in no mood for listening. But since the Revive Civility gathering was on the back of my heels, I chose to take a deep breath instead.
Does that mean that everything is all fluffy and warm with multi-colored butterflies landing on dew filled, morning flowers as the sun rises elegantly? No. Of course not. It is a work in progress.
I wonder, though, if my individual work to act civilly would be less daunting if others joined me. Would you be up to giving it a whirl?
I can’t guarantee that any changes will be made. But it’s certainly worth a try. It certainly wouldn't hurt to see what might happen.