Has Civility Become a Quaint Relic of the Past?
Thomas G. Plante
I was recently asked to chair a working group on civility for the American Psychological Association. The purpose of the working group is to develop policies and procedures to encourage civility in all oral and written communications within the organization and for their membership.
My first thought was, Wow! Has it gotten so bad in our relationships and communities that we really even need a working group on civility? And for a group of psychologists of all people? You’d think that psychologists—experts on human behavior—wouldn’t need something like a civility working group or instructions on civil behavior at all, but they do.
Certainly incivility is bad for business as well as our health and well-being, yet we continue to see increases in the evidence for incivility in our day-to-day life.
Sadly, much of our society has devolved into remarkably uncivil behavior, and this is true even within our professional associations. Plenty of research has been conducted in recent years on incivility in the workplace, and it has been found to be closely associated with stress, loss of productivity, and staff turnover. Certainly incivility is bad for business as well as our health and well-being, yet we continue to see increases in the evidence for incivility in our day-to-day life. For example, national politics today seems to resemble a clinic on how to behave badly with others. In fact our recent series of presidential debates during the primary season has often been uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch. If it were a movie it might have been rated ‘R.’
The internet and social media also seem to include so many angry, bitter, and self-righteous people feeling quite free and comfortable expressing their opinions with great certainty and being quick to devalue and demean others who might disagree with their points of view. Cable news, talk radio, and even discourse on many college campuses too often include aggressive, disrespectful, and mean spirited speech.
free speech and a tolerance for diverse points of view doesn’t mean that it’s permissible or acceptable to bully others with demeaning, disrespectful, and aggressive language and behavior
Certainly people are entitled to their opinions, beliefs, and perspectives on the many diverse topics of the day. And in a society that values free speech they are entitled to express their views and engage in vigorous debate. But free speech and a tolerance for diverse points of view doesn’t mean that it’s permissible or acceptable to bully others with demeaning, disrespectful, and aggressive language and behavior. Frankly, I am amazed at what is tolerated in many communities, including my own professional organization the American Psychological Association, when it comes to the written and spoken word.
Here at Santa Clara we do things differently. Our core values of competence, conscience, and compassion are taken very seriously, and we enjoy a charism of hospitality, graciousness, and we nurture a spirit of deep respect and compassion for all. It is a refreshing and welcomed approach given the current climate of incivility.
So yes indeed, the American Psychological Association actually does need a civility working group to help the organization support and nurture respectful, compassionate, and civil communication and discourse. If psychologists need a committee like this, many other organizations likely do as well. At Santa Clara we are ahead of the curve when it comes to civility and perhaps can offer a model to other organizations. It is how we roll and perhaps how others should roll as well.