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Civility Begins With Understanding Others

March 1, 2019

At the 2019 Detroit Policy Conference, The Detroit News’ Nolan Finley took to the Sound Board stage with Stephen Henderson from Detroit Public Television and WDET 101.9 FM to announce the Detroit Civility Project, a regional call for leaders to participate in meetups with others who may not share the same political or ideological view. The goal: to better understand others by first learning the motivation and background that influences the way they think.

“We’re talking about the ability on a one-to-one basis to be able to sit across the table from somebody who thinks and sees the world differently than you do and have a conversation. And to be able to listen to that person. And really listen. Really trying to understand what they’re saying, and where they are coming from,” Henderson said.

To participate in the Detroit Civility Project, visit

Speaker, author, and entrepreneur Shelby Scarbrough followed with a keynote address titled on the joy of civility. She cited George Washington’s “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” but offered a slight adjustment for today’s conversations, referring to them as the “roles of civility” and the effect they have in our discourse.

“Without joy, it’s hard to be civil. Without civility, it’s hard to be joyful,” Scarbrough said.

The keynote focused on steps to take responsibility for our own civility by speaking from experience, putting the needs of others first, and pulling our own weight. She also echoed Henderson’s sentiments, stating that we should all listen to others with the goal of understanding and not winning an argument.

Scarbrough welcomed Finley and Henderson back on stage with James Group International’s John E. James and Lorron James for a panel discussion sponsored by Delta Dental. Throughout the session, the brothers talked about how their views differed growing up and how they work so well together today.

“I don’t think there is a single thing in business that we ever agreed on. But that makes us better,” Lorron James said.

John E. James, the older of the two brothers, had a much different life experience as a young adult. He cited his military experience when referencing his thoughts on civility and how to think about those with differing views.

“I was taught early in the army to never mistake resistance for a lack of understanding,” he said.

Henderson and Finley also discussed how their relationship is often at odds, but they find a way to overcome their differences through conversation.

“A lot of times it’s easy to avoid different subjects. It’s easy not to talk about race, poverty, income inequality, or politics. I’ve never had that issue with Nolan. I know enough about him and why he thinks the way he does and we can talk about that. And we are better for having had that dialogue,”  Henderson said.

Finley agreed and noted that he thinks it is because he and Henderson both enjoy the friction.

“A good healthy debate is fun. It hones your own opinions and your own positions and it’s healthy to engage. I think we make each other better for that,” Finley said. “I don’t think our objective is to close the divide, we don’t want everyone thinking the same, we don’t expect everyone to think the same. Our goal is to have people communicate across the divide. You want people to feel passionate about their beliefs. We just want to take out the anger.”