Rebuilding Civility Sought at Conference

Rebuilding Civility Sought at Conference

On the surface, life seems best when things come together, problems have a solution, people spend time with those they like and love and have things they commonly enjoy. Personal satisfaction, when shared, seems ripe for reciprocation. Right?

In 2017, and for many within the past year or so, the idea of people being happy, being together and sharing a joyful experience has been a precious commodity. Sides are taken. Friendships, even long-time connections, are severed. Read an article online or view a posting on social media and the comments section quickly unravels into name-calling, bashing a person they often don't know or saying something that's often painted with a broad brush. 

It's not civil. It's not healthy. It's getting worse. 

"We're definitely in an uncivil war," said Carl Luna, director of the Institute for Civil Civic Engagement (ICCE), a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College and a visiting professor at the University of San Diego. "We are more divided, studies have shown, since the Civil War. All of our work at the ICCE goes toward addressing this issue. There is no peace until there is justice and civility is justice."

Many today will look no further than last fall's United States presidential election as the prime example of the divide and downfall of human civility. In actuality, it's merely the latest.

The sixth annual Community Conference on Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue, held April 18-19 at USD, was themed on “Rebuilding Civility.”

"There's perhaps no more pressing time for us to have this conversation than the political environment that we are currently involved in," said USD President James T. Harris. "Civility is more relevant as a means for discussion and needs to be embraced in practice. This work starts with all of us as individuals to move us out of our comfort zones, demonstrate empathy as we seek to understand the world around us through multiple lenses."

Harris posed some questions for contemplation. "What does civility mean in the digital age? Do the basic foundations of civility still have a place in society? If so, where? How do we practice civility when often our first experience with others who have different views is online? How do we still encourage and practice civility within our own families, local communities, engagement across the nation and with people around the world?"

Over the conference's two days, organization representatives throughout San Diego County, California, nationally and internationally as well as public media outlets, brought forth their perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and a desire to raise the level of dialogue, engagement and steps to take action.

One person called for a requirement for people to serve one to two years of civilian or non-military service. Another spoke of a program that brings opposing political party lawmakers together to meet each other without the labels attached and work on promote better relationships. Many looked to the audience and encouraged them to be active participants at local city council meetings, know who their representatives are and to contribute to the betterment of society through their actions.

Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District and a member of USD's Board of Trustees, said the quality of interaction between people is a necessity.

"Many think civility means how you speak to another person when it actually means how you are with other people. How do you feel about them? Whether you listen to them, respect them and how you interact with them," she said. "In education, it becomes even more important. In San Diego's community college district, there are more than 105,000 people who are from all walks of life, ages and for them to understand each other is very important."

Carroll said working with the National Conflict Resolution Center, doing a student training program at the community college level and with other higher education institutions following suit that students "learn to heal, to listen, understand and respect people from other cultures and other religions."

Harris agrees that higher education institutions can be leaders toward this pursuit and there were workshop sessions and panel discussions both days that centered on education's role past, present and future.

"We are dedicated to teaching the principles of civility to our students, mutual respect, compassion and recognizing the dignity of every individual. This is at the heart of what a great university should provide for its students. Environments where complex and sensitive issues can be thought out, discussed, considered and to enable ongoing dialogue and discovery. Civil discourse can provide opportunities for understanding and reflecting upon many different perspectives beyond our own."

— Ryan T. Blystone

Former Congressmen Mickey Edwards, far left, and Dan Glickman, and National Institute for Civil Discourse Executive Director Carolyn Lukensmeyer, discuss rebuilding civility in a divided nation.Former Congressmen Mickey Edwards, far left, and Dan Glickman, and National Institute for Civil Discourse Executive Director Carolyn Lukensmeyer, discuss rebuilding civility in a divided nation.

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United Front Multicultural Commons
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San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-2395

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