It’s time to restore civility to American politics, life

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Few could argue with the hard facts and the truth that we are living in the most divided political period in modern American history. From town halls to state capitals and all the way to the nation’s capital, the issues that divide us often take on angry personal tones that find all parties engaged in reckless rhetoric. Rivals are too often seen as enemies, unlike other times when disagreements could be expressed with respect for all points of view.

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where civility was a requirement in everyday life. Simple jokes like “hello” and “how are you” were daily rituals. Random acts of kindness were not unusual. One time, I remember my mom bringing some store-bought cookies for the school bake sale. A friendly neighbor heard about it and graciously prepared some for me to bring for sale. This act of our neighbor made me feel included in the community.

In short, people cared. For our communities to thrive, we need to find commonalities. Community does not mean agreement. There are many ways to connect that don’t negate our individuality or our ideological tenets. In fact, our differences should make us stronger.

Our ideologies are shaped by our religious, educational, familial, friendly experiences or the lack thereof.

Our ideologies are seen through lenses of geography, economic mobility and global access to generational growth.

Our ideologies tend to distract us from unexpected experiences that might alter our perceptions in healthy ways.

The late congressman Bill Young, a transcendent politician from Pinellas County whose political acumen reached beyond his district, Tallahassee and DC, inspired the creation of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS) at St. Petersburg College, an organization that tries to bring different factions to work together on policies and solutions – in the same civil way we did in my hometown. The Institute provides a non-partisan, trusted gathering forum to explore local, state, national and international issues.

At the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS), we know where the battle lines lie in politics. But we also know that there can and should be civility. As Congressman Young explained, “Our ancestors understood that there was a need for government (but not too much) – to maintain civility, to maintain stability, to have an organized way of doing business People.”

As ISPS produces community programming, we strive to treat all aspects of debate with respect. It is customary for us to reserve green rooms for our guests. In these small rooms with just tiny bottles of water and Ritz cookies, no lights or cameras, our guests – various politicians, civic leaders, CEOs – all treat each other as equals.

In all of our programs as IHSPRs, we invite lively yet civil dialogue on a range of issues with leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors – all in a non-partisan way. It creates space and time to unpack different perspectives without packing punches that pollute any conversation. Courtesy is at the heart of what we do – and it’s a value and a trait we all need to restore in our own spheres of influence.

As humans, connection matters. Life is not linear. Let’s be honest. Policies are based on personal biases. Nothing has changed this truth. The difference lies in our sincere ability to interact respectfully and responsibly with others and to remain civil when we disagree with their beliefs.

Civility is an active word. It requires recognition of the humanity of others. Ultimately, our footprint matters. Who we are is reflected not only in our words but also in our actions. Civility towards each other helps us all to create a new positive era for our dear Republic and its democracy.

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Kimberly Jackson is the executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions.


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