As we have discussed over the past two days - civility is about more than just politeness. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. In our previous segments, we explored how we sometimes succeed and often fail at civility.
In our final installment – we present: Civility: An Exercise in Getting Along. We welcome two scholars for an in-depth panel discussion to discuss what the beginning steps are for improved civility in our politics, discourse and search for common ground. We are opening our phone lines for your perspective.
Let me introduce our two special guests: Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Chair of Political Science at Amherst College. We also welcome David Smith - the John W. Chandler Professor of English at Williams College. Welcome to you both.
As we explore, this morning, the issues of tolerance and the language of civility and what we expect of others in return for our civility, we speak with Randall R. Kennedy, the Michael Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches courses on contracts, freedom of expression, and the regulation of race relations.
He addresses that simple question from Rodney King – why can’t we all get along?
On April 25, of this year, TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and a female friend. In the recording from September 2013, a man confirmed to be Sterling was irritated over a photo the woman had posted on Instagram, in which she posed with Basketball Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson.
Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after the recordings were made public. That incident played in the background over the past two months as we talked with scholars and citizens for this project. It came up time and time again. So much so, we wanted to explore the role civility has with this nation’s sports culture.
An outspoken centrist, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe stunned Washington in February 2012 when she announced she would not seek a fourth term and offered a sharp rebuke to the Senate, citing the dispiriting gridlock and polarization. After serving in the legislative branch at the state and federal levels for 40 years, including 18 years in the U.S. Senate, she explained that Washington wasn’t solving the big problems anymore. Incivility had taken its toll.
Since leaving the Senate, she has written a book: Fighting for Common Ground. After such a long Government career, I asked her how congress has come to such a standstill and why she wanted out.
In putting together a series on civility, we learned it is rather easy to find examples of incivility. There is always a sound bite available of somebody yelling about something. Finding an example of civility in action is more difficult. It exists – but sometimes - because it is understated or even hard-wired into us – we tend to overlook it. So for an example of civility, I kept on thinking of Robert Fulguhm’s 1988 poem - "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten."
A specialist in American public opinion, voting behavior and city politics, Doug Muzzio has had extensive political, governmental, and media experience. He is founder, former director and current chief pollster at Baruch College Survey Research at CUNY.
The perceived breakdown of civility has in recent years become a national obsession, and our modern climate of boorishness has cultivated a host of etiquette watchdogs, like Miss Manners and Martha Stewart, who defend us against an onslaught of nastiness.
Touching on aspects of both our public and private lives, including work, family, and sex, literary and social critic and Professor of English at Fordham University, Mark Caldwell, has spent many years examining how the rules of behavior inevitably change and explains why, no matter how hard we try, we can never return to a golden era of civilized manners and mores. He is the author of the book: A Short History of Rudeness. He says, through his research, he has ultimately concluded – that this is all cyclical.
What has happened to civility in our country? Conversations with people at the Mason Square Library in Springfield, Massachusetts reveal displeasure over how we interact with one another today and uncertainty over whether we can become more civil in the future.
Over time, it seems the face-to-face has become in-your-face.
Mattie Jenkins says when she was growing up more than a half-century ago people were more respectful and kind.
In media, political circles, and even the neighborhood shopping center or soccer field, we often here combatant voices piercing one another's views - and our eardrums in the process. In this din of discourse comes the question of civility. With all of the talk - and screaming - can there also be listening and perhaps an understanding of the shawl of ideas and concerns they wish to share and embrace us with?
In partnership with MASS Humanities we present a three part series entitled Agreeing to Disagree: Civility in Public Discourse. Over the next three days we will explore the issues, concepts, and themes of civility and incivility. Today and tomorrow we will feature six leading scholars on the issue. On Wednesday, June 18, we will open up our phone lines from 9am-10am ET and invite you to join what we hope is an in-depth, comprehensive, and civil discussion.