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Catherine Davis: Civility is about creating spaces for all voices to be heard

Catherine Davis: Civility is about creating spaces for all voices to be heard

One only has to turn on the news or spend time on social media to see that incivility is everywhere. Name-calling, bullying and intimidation are common occurrences when discussing politics and other issues. Our political representatives often have extreme viewpoints that prevent progress on real issues that need solutions. As a citizen, it often feels as though we have helpless in trying to change the tone of conversations.

The League of Women Voters, Rochester, partnering with several groups including the Diversity Council’s Community Leaders Creating Change program and the Rochester Public Library, saw an opportunity to raise awareness and offer solutions-based actions to change the tone of conversations. Revive Civility Rochester is the result. Based on the work and research from the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, this grassroots community campaign promotes civility and civility discourse through the following activities:

  • Asking our local elected officials to commit to be role models for civility in words and actions by using respectful language and behaviors in all interactions.
  • Encouraging community members to pledge to seek out multiple sources of information, listening to different viewpoints without stereotyping or using insulting language to respond, and supporting efforts to bring individuals with different viewpoints together with the goal of hearing each other’s perspectives, not necessarily agreeing.
  • Providing opportunities for individuals to learn skills in how to listen and have respectful conversations around controversial topics.
  • Offering forums for community members to discuss civility and civility discourse.

There are members of our community who are concerned about Revive Civility Rochester. Historically, civility has sometimes been used a weapon to silence underrepresented, marginalized people. That is a misuse of civility and frankly, wrong. True civility is not about silencing others. It’s not about tone policing or preventing loud, passionate comments. It is about creating spaces for ALL voices to be heard. It’s about first listening intently and trying to understand to another’s viewpoint before sharing yours. It’s about being willing to accept another’s perspective without agreeing with it. It’s about speaking up when you disagree and doing so in a way that keeps the focus on the issue.

So what you can you do? Check out the resources we have on our website, the Revive Civility Rochester Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. Attend one of the community events such as "What’s on Tap" at Forager Brewery on April 18. Hold your elected officials accountable for their behavior. Challenge yourself to seek out people who have different views and listen to learn about their perspectives. Speak up when you don’t agree. Provide space for others to do the same. Each and every one of us has the power to change the conversation and revive civility in Rochester.

Catherine Davis is a volunteer with the League of Women Voters in Rochester.

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