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Our view: Rekindling the cry for civility

Nate Beeler / Cagle Cartoons

We've gone through this before. And we survived — by committing, as individuals and as a community, to being more civil to one another.

Remember Duluth's summer of divisiveness in 2003, the battle lines drawn over everything from a proposed golf course at Spirit Mountain to Bayfront development to retiree health care? The mayor at the time, Gary Doty, even coined a new insult: "CAVE people," or, "Citizens Against Virtually Everything."

From all the angst emerged cooler heads, however, and the difficult but necessary realization that we need to listen to each other — really listen to each other — while also offering the respect that we all expect.

From those troubled and contentious times also emerged the Speak Your Peace Civility Project, with its tenets for civil and productive public discourse and its guidelines for reaching decisions even when compromise is condemned as weakness.

Nearly a decade and a half later, as we hurtle toward what seems like it might be another summer of divisiveness, the Speak Your Peace Civility Project is still with us, is still ready to help, and is offering reminders anew that we're better than the slaps that sully social media and the poor examples of behavior demonstrated by far too many of our so-called leaders.

"All I'm seeing is people digging themselves in and rooting so much for the other side to fail," Anita Stech, a steering committee member for Speak Your Peace, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. "Nobody is talking to each other. And instead of trying to put two people — a Trump supporter and a Hillary supporter, as an example — in the same room at the same time, and saying, 'Get along,' we need to start out with listening. It's a skill that's lacking."

Active and responsive listening is the skill at the center of a Speak Your Peace public event Monday. The entire community is invited. All of us — of all ages and from all walks of life — stand to benefit by participating. Listening skills will be taught followed by practice in small groups. Videos will be shown to help us recognize the things that bring us together rather than divide us and to help us see that what we say can be altered in big ways by how we say it. And there'll be soup, bread and cookies at the "Soup and Civility" event.

"At a time when we're seeing, almost every day, the struggles that come from incivility and missed opportunities and not a lot of great examples to follow, we're trying to reach people to say there is hope," said Rob Karwath, also a steering committee member for Speak Your Peace, a project of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. "There's a simple little program here that we developed locally and that has been adopted around the world that can actually help us get through it."

We need help because listening, truly listening to one another, isn't as easy as it sounds.

"Instead of listening just so you get your turn next, we need to sink in to where the other person is coming from, which is dang hard. It takes a lot of practice," Stech said. "We're also going to be pointing out (at Monday's event) a lot of things we do that are conversation stoppers. Like someone can say something and you go, 'Yeah, well, you think that's bad, well, listen to my story.' OK, so where does that go? No place."

Listening is important because the best ideas are drawn from bits of many ideas, Karwath said.

"What happens when you listen? You actually might find the other side has some ideas you don't have. And they listen and they find some ideas you have," he said. "We need to show the value of listening. Because right now it's not valued."

Not listening to each other can lead to gridlock or worse. We see it every day. More and more, unfortunately.

"It's the cost of incivility," Karwath said. "The cost is we're not getting anything done, and voters keep saying to our elected leaders, 'Get something done!' But they're not acting the way they need to act to get something done."

That doesn't mean we, too, should act in disrespectful and unproductive ways. In fact, it's all the more reason why we mustn't.

In 2003, here in Duluth, we needed to start listening to each other and treating each other with more civility. Today, across our nation, that need never has been more clear.

It can start inside of us individually. Any one of us can begin the momentum. All of us can, including on Monday — over soup.

*  *  *

'SOUP AND CIVILITY' EVENT MONDAY

What: A public gathering called "Soup and Civility"

When: 5:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday

Where: The west commons at Denfeld High School

Who: All are encouraged to attend and participate

Cost: Free

Sponsors: The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, the city of Duluth, and the Duluth News Tribune

More information: www.dsaspeakyourpeace.org

Email: info@dsacommunityfoundation.com

TOOLS OF CIVILITY

The tools of civility at the heart of Speak Your Peace are from P.M. Forni's book, "Choosing Civility." These tools are printed on posters in public meeting halls in the Twin Ports and around the world. They are:

  • Pay attention: Be aware of those around you.
  • Listen: Focus on others to better understand their points of view.
  • Be inclusive: Welcome everyone working for the greater good.
  • Don't gossip: And don't accept when others gossip.
  • Show respect: Honor other people and their opinions, especially in the midst of disagreement.
  • Be agreeable: Look for opportunities to agree; don't contradict just to contradict.
  • Apologize: Be sincere about repairing damaged relationships.
  • Give constructive criticism: When disagreeing, stick to the issues and don't stoop to personal attacks.
  • Take responsibility: Don't shift blame to others and share disagreements publicly.

Source: Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project, a creation of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

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