Watch: Stacey Abrams Talks Civility in LeadershipMay 30, 2019
Stacey Abrams, founder and chair of Fair Fight Action, took to Michigan’s center stage on Wednesday, May 29 to deliver a powerful keynote address on civility. An experienced politician, Abrams was the first female African American gubernatorial nominee for a major party in any state, receiving more votes than any other Democrat in Georgia’s history. She was also selected to deliver the Democratic party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union address in February.
Abrams’ political tenure yielded insightful lessons in civility that she shared with attendees Wednesday afternoon. From working with those in an opposing party with different perspectives, a main tenet she gathered is the importance of preserving other’s humanity noting, “When you dehumanize to make your point, you are no longer arguing, you are demonizing, and that does not lead to civility but it also doesn’t lead to change.”
Out of these lessons, Abrams summarized her approach to civility through three types of respect: respectful disagreement, respectful engagement, and respectful behavior.
Abrams’ idea of respectful disagreement is rooted in a responsibility to know what you believe, why you believe it and not to believe too much to ensure room for growth and understanding. Further, she explained the necessity of another important responsibility—to know what others believe and investigate why. From there, people can better work toward mutual solutions.
Constructive engagement is not about conversion or making others believe what you believe. It’s about convincing behaviors to change and convincing others to work with you because they believe in your objective.
To Abrams, civil does not mean silent. Action, even amid disagreement, can still be civil. She emphasized the importance of speaking up to right wrongs, but never by stooping to disrespectful tactics.
“I will never take on the tropes and behavior of those who diminish me in order to lift myself or my ideas,” said Abrams. “While civility is not silence, meanness is not success.”
In a Q&A with WDIV-TV4’s Devin Scillian following her address, Abrams described her political outlook as neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Rather, she described herself as a meliorist—someone who believes that the world can be made better.
“I believe in the capacity for civility. I believe that we believe in our country and want its best outcome.”