One cannot help being depressed about the decline of civility in our society. It is dominating our politics and seeping into our lives at many levels. In our church we are addressing this through our Right Relations work (many thanks to Louise Wilkinson and Rhonda Brown for leading that effort!). Over the past two years the Board has created policies to address member concerns with staff, including a feedback process through the Personnel Committee. We have a ways to go on this, and the Board will be working on making members aware of these processes and expanding them to promote right relations and provide reconciliation when anyone – both members and staff – feel hurt. In particular, I believe it will be important to avoid gossip and social media for airing our concerns.
We can accomplish much by “going direct” as Rev. Elaine Peresluha would say, and if that does not work going through our processes with the Personnel Committee, Right Relations Committee, and the Board if necessary. The goal is that we (1) refrain from propagating rumors, (2) address misinformation expeditiously, and (3) most important – everyone in the church feels safe, respected, heard, and loved in our community.
We have a great start with our Right Relations principles, but I would like to add some lessons that appeared in an excellent op-ed by Gerald Seib published in the July 30 Wall Street Journal. Mr. Seib highlighted how Duluth MN over a decade ago overcame severe civic civility issues that were threatening to tear the community apart. They started “Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project,” and it actually worked! Check out their website. Speak Your Peace came up with a simple list of principles for public dialog:
Pay Attention. Be aware and attend to the world and the people around you.
Listen. Focus on others in order to better understand their points of view.
Be Inclusive. Welcome all groups of citizens working for the greater good of the community.
Don’t Gossip. And don’t accept when others choose to do so.
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 do so.
Apologize. Be sincere and repair damaged relationships.
Give Constructive Criticism. When disagreeing, stick to the issues and don’t make a personal attack.
Take Responsibility. Don’t shift responsibility and blame onto others; share disagreements publicly.
We are a community that prides ourselves on our passions for what we believe. This is a good thing except when our passions conflict or do not overlap. With our Right Relations guidelines and simple principles like those of Speak Your Peace, not only will we survive disagreements, but we can use them to grow in our spirituality and sense of community.