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Why Civility Matters

Once again, the Mackinac Policy Conference will highlight the necessary role civility plays in making our society and democracy work.  This is an issue that the Detroit Regional Chamber has been focused on for a few years – making it a continuing theme in our events and other communications. 

At this year’s Conference, our friends Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson will continue their partnership with the Chamber with the Detroit Civility Project, which has been pairing people with different political, religious, or other perspectives and capturing their curated conversation with an eye toward teaching all of us how to disagree without being disagreeable.  I am also pleased that I will engage my friends Reps. Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton in a conversation about how the growing lack of civility in Washington D.C. over the last two decades has fundamentally damaged howand how wellour nation is governed.   

Some question our focus on civility.  Some view a call for civility as an excuse to ignore difficult issues or worse, silence someone’s voice.  Others argue that some issues (usually the issue they are most passionate about) are so important that they feel compelled to go on a war footing. 

Our view is that civility is critical to the art of compromise, and compromise is the necessary backbone of our representative democracy.  As a nation of 330 million persons, to think that any one subset of us will always be right, or will always win, is simply unrealistic.  Our founding fathers created a system of government that has compromise at its very core.  In order for legislation to be enacted, the representatives of these 330 million persons have to come to an agreement, and the President also has to agree.  Our three-branch systemlegislative, executive, and judicialitself is a system geared towards compromise. 

Compromise is hard.  Nobody likes to do it.  We all think we are generally right, that our perspective on an issue is the correct one.  But in reality, our society is better because sometimes we win and sometimes we don’t.  Look at all the legislative battles of the past.  It’s hard to argue that those who opposed civil rights legislation in 1960’s were right, or those who opposed Ronald Reagan’s approach to the Soviet Union in 1980’s.  But while those opponents no doubt felt they were on firm logical or moral ground at the time, our nation is undoubtedly better off that the results were what they were.   

Civility is understanding that while we may disagree with somebody’s approach to an issue, their underlying intent may be just as honorable as yours.  Civility is also the realization that in a nation of 330 million people we may never all be on the same page, so trying to win an argument by yelling at someone is a fruitless endeavor.  But that is what politics has devolved into today.  Instead of trying to find a compromise that allows an issue to be solved, many of us demand “our way” and limit any possible compromise, as compromise would show weakness or not resolve the issue at hand in the exact manner we think it should. 

The lack of civility in our public discourse is seeping into other aspects of our society.  It’s not enough that incivility is damaging our politics, it’s damaging how we interact with each other on a daily basis.  This is dangerous, and the Chamber is committed to doing our part to restore civility in our dialogue.