Periodically I am asked how city business was conducted in the “old days”. You tend to get those questions when you hair turns a different color and you have a wrinkled brow. I can honestly say after 40 years as a city manager, there have been many changes…most for the better.
With the contentious presidential race concluded, I have been asked about civility on more than one occasion. It would seem with the advent of super PACs, with few funding limitations, the ability to rewrite the truth had no boundaries.
I have to confess as a young city manager, I had a tendency to be aggressive when advocating a point of view, and was known to be an intimidator at times. I was fortunate to have good counsel from elected officials and others who reminded me I could have a disagreement without being disagreeable.
My high school government teacher gets blame (or credit) for my love of government. He was always reminding students that politics does create strange bedfellows. He emphasized when debating an issue civility must be maintained at all times, because today’s foe will most likely be your ally tomorrow. He always liked to illustrate the point by telling us when we felt we were winning a debate to save the Snoopy happy dance for a private moment.
So, are we less civil today then we were when I started in the business? I suspect we have lost some civility over the years, simply because many trends tend to grow incrementally. More importantly the advent of social media, which tends to have no filters, seems to create a mob mentality pile on effect.
I am not an avid Facebook user, but do enjoy keeping up with family and reconnecting with old friends. But during the presidential race, I stayed away from Facebook, due to constant malicious postings about all candidates, which got worse as we got closer to election time. The mob had taken over and many seemed to think the more preposterous a post, the more likely it was going to change votes and opinions.
Have you ever gone to a public meeting and heard citizens in the gallery hurl cat calls at those speaking, because they don’t like what they heard? Frankly I never understood this rude behavior as it discredits the view of the perpetrator.
So, what are we going to do to bring greater civility back in our lives? It might start by remembering what our parents taught us:
· Don’t speak when others are speaking
· Treat others as you want to be treated
· Don’t call people names
· Share (Compromise)
· Understand and respect the position of others, even if you disagree
· Don’t take comments personally
· Lose gracefully
· Win gracefully
· Play nice
Many government officials turn on filters when comments become personal and mean spirited. My father taught me early in life when your worthy opponent started throwing personnel attacks at you, you won the debate. His message was simple. When the debate got personal your opponent lost on the merits and their only recourse, other than agree with you, was personal attacks.
All of these stories and personal accounts aside, the primary question remains: how do we bring more civility back in our lives? It begins with you. Let those who have lost their way, know their behavior is unacceptable and let’s all practice what we preach. After all 40 years as a City Manager has taught me a thing or two.