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Local View: Civility helps unite, move community forward

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“Why should anyone care what you think?”

“Is there a point there — anywhere?”

“Grow up! No, wake up!”

Scary comments like these will echo through the halls Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Duluth. Halloween will be a day for seeing incivility in action and understanding the importance — even the imperative — of addressing it and overcoming it.

Everywhere we look these days, people seem to be putting on incivility as their costume of choice. Washington and national politics are roiled with partisan sniping and a presidential race that has been more about Twitter attacks than tax policy. Local boards and agencies have seen their share of troubles, too. Truth be told, many of us identify incivility as a major problem in our workplaces, our children’s schools and even our homes.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great examples for how civility can make our lives and our communities better.

There is one, however, and it calls the Twin Ports home. Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation has been around for 12 years. It started right here in an effort to end incivility in our public bodies that was causing people to drop out. If deliberations at the City Council or the neighborhood group were so crazy, the thinking went, why in the world would I want to get involved?

Speak Your Peace has helped the Twin Ports address problems ranging from troubled finances at the city of Duluth to troubled meetings of the Duluth School Board. Yes, we have more work to do. But a program that started here has gone around the world, helping communities of all sizes better work together and solve problems.

Recently, those communities included a town in the Pacific Northwest struggling with change, in part reflected by a new bicycle trail; a mid-sized Midwestern city divided by new development radically remaking its downtown; and a vacation community trying to heal after problems of drug and alcohol abuse in its midst.

In all these cases, civility is helping bring people together and move forward. Indeed, few of us would argue that a climate of incivility is preferable or even healthy. So why do so many of us end up donning the scary incivility costume when we’re upset, confused or just plain scared?

Twin Ports organizers of Speak Your Peace will delve into these issues — complete with role-playing and storytelling frightfully appropriate for Halloween — in a series of workshops called Civility Starts with Us. The first, focused on how all of us individually can make changes to make a difference, runs from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at First United Methodist Church, 230 E. Skyline Parkway.

Two follow-up sessions on the importance of listening and on paying attention to the tone of our conversations will be held Nov. 12 and Dec. 2 at the church. All three events are free and open to the public.

After a dozen years of work, one truth that Speak Your Peace has uncovered is that civility is not like an inoculation. You don’t get it once and receive a lifetime of protection. Civility is more like exercise or healthy eating. You have to keep working at it.

We’ve learned that here in the hometown of Speak Your Peace. Even as we share the program with communities around the world, we need to keep coming back to it right in Duluth-Superior to solve new problems, often in the face of uncertainty and change.

We’ll practice it again Saturday. Come join us. A little civility will be a nice treat this Halloween.

Rob Karwath is president and CEO of North Coast Communications in Duluth and works on behalf of Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project for the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. Contact him at rob@northcoastcommunications.com.

Get involved

The public is invited to participate in a series of free workshops on ensuring civility. The workshops are sponsored by Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project, an initiative of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

  • Saturday — “Civility Starts with Me,” 9 a.m. to noon
  • Thursday, Nov. 12 — “But You’re Not Listening!” 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 2 — “What Hurt Was How You Said It,”  6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For more information, call (218) 726-0232 or email info@dsacommunityfoundation.com

About Speak Your Peace

“Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project” is a resource for building civic engagement, according to the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. It provides civil and respectful tools for people as they present their views and discuss issues. Based on P.M. Forni’s book, “Choosing Civility,” the project has been adopted by nine bodies of government in the Twin Ports area, is part of the curriculum in the Duluth public schools and has been used around the world. Launched in 2003, its guiding tools include pay attention, listen, be inclusive, don’t gossip, show respect, be agreeable, apologize, give constructive criticism and take responsibility.

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