Much Needed Civility...

by Mackenzie Elaine Wasilick, January 08, 2021

Following this week's attack on our Capitol, I started and stopped writing this post probably five different times. Of course I have (many) opinions, but I am not a subject expert here. I know that sharing my outrage on this platform will not create any substantive difference in the larger conversation at play. So, I started thinking about what I could do. 

Near the end of 2020, I participated in an Etiquette Intensive with Crystal Bailey of the Etiquette Institute of Washington. As a component of our final evaluation, we had to create a brief presentation for our peers. While 'etiquette' may bring to mind how to walk with a book balanced on your head or conjure up an image of royalty sipping tea, the broader scope is really just showing respect and care for others. It's about empathy - it's practically in the definition. So, I gave my final presentation on civil discourse; a topic that my work in sorority recruitment has taught me so much about, especially in 2020. 

I firmly believe we have much more that binds us together than pulls us apart, but that doesn't mean we're not going to have differing opinions. What's that saying? Opinions are like asses, everyone has one. We're never all going to share the same opinion - even if we're on the same 'side'. So, we have to learn to start sharing our opinions and listening to others a little better if we're going to bridge our divide. I'm sharing the acronym 'CIVIL' that I created as part of my final etiquette presentation to help you lean into some (much needed) tough conversations with grace and empathy.


        C - remain calm

Your tone and demeanor will show that you can handle conversations on sensitive topics. Emotions and feelings are valid, but how you express them will impact your ability to reach progress. Yelling or crying will certainly put a roadblock on that bridge you're trying to build. Fellow white people, if you aren't aware of the 'white tears' phenomenon, I encourage you to explore it. Next time you enter a 'difficult' conversation, try and let down your guard, set aside any defenses you may have, and uncenter yourself and your feelings from the narrative. This may be difficult, you may fail at times, keep trying.

        I - inquire with genuine curiosity

Have you ever listened to an interview and thought - 'well how are they supposed to answer that question?' It's called 'gotcha journalism'. You can't come into a conversation with a closed mind. You can't come to the conversation riled up and ready to make the person you're talking to feel stupid or exposed. Ask questions, explore topics, open up the possibilities. The optimist in my believes that each of you are kind and caring people; extend that even more to those who may view things differently than you. For my religious folks - I believe that's what Christ would do. 

        V - acknowledge views and vantage points

Every person you talk to is unique. Their life experiences and lessons shape who they are and what they believe - chances are that's different from your own. Get to the 'why' behind the feelings and perspectives - what has shaped them? What has shaped you? Even people of seemingly similar demographics each has their own individual collection of lived experiences. But here's something we often forget: you can't assume that if someone's circumstances were to change that their opinion would as well. I'm sure we've all heard "you'll change your mind once..." or "if you were in their shoes you would...". For me, it has always been that once I get older... or have money of my own... or have children... that my opinion would change on many perspectives that I am very passionate about. The whole point of the 'V' in CIVIL is that life experiences (like age, money, and family) do influence our opinions, but we can't theoretically change factors of others' lives to force their opinion to change - it's just not the reality of the situation. We can only practice empathy and hope others do the same in return. 

        I - use "I" statements to share personal opinions

Use "I" statements to acknowledge your understandings, opinions, and if necessary, biases. "I agree with you there!" or "I disagree with you on that point." Instead of responding with "That's not true!" - a statement that can end the conversation and likely puts your companion in defense, try "I have a different understanding on that, can you share more about how you came to that conclusion?". You can also acknowledge when you don't know enough about a subject, but still want to participate in the conversation - "I don't know enough about that topic yet, can you share where you are learning about it?" Remember, nobody knows everything and nobody speaks for everyone.  

        L - listen

This seems simple, but when we are listening, we are not preparing our next question to ask, reflecting on our own personal experience, or crafting the perfect rebuttal. You're simply listening. Remove distractions, take a deep breath, and focus. 


I won't conclude with an emphatic - that's it! Because tough conversations are, well, tough. They aren't easy to have. If you're asking, then, why do we have them? Because if this week has shown us anything, it's that we can't operate in our silos - pushing out anyone we might disagree with. Find that middle ground, even it's only a square inch, and start somewhere.

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