GUEST COMMENTARY: Let's be civil and advance civilization

2013-07-09T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Let's be civil and advance civilizationBy David C. Allen
July 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

What if a Democrat wasn’t evil but sincerely believed it’s in our best interests for the government to step into certain facets of our lives?

And what if a Republican wasn’t the devil incarnate but believed in his heart that we’re better off managing most of our own affairs?

What if Barack Obama doesn’t have horns and a tail but only wants his daughters to grow up in the best country in the world?

And what if George Bush wasn’t serving Satan but was doing his best to keep us safe and give us better lives?

For that matter, what if people just decided to deal with others as if their motives were pure?

Hmmm. What if?

Well, maybe we’d talk to them, or about them, differently.

Maybe we’d have sincere discussions about how to make things better -- not just for you or me but for everyone.

Maybe we’d be, well, civil.

We’re in something of a lull right now, without imminent political campaigns to pour gasoline on the embers of our differing opinions.

But I was reminded of all the nastiness recently by a flier about an upcoming program sponsored by an organization called the Institute for Civility in Government (

The organization is based in Houston, and the symposium is July 22 and 23 in Washington, where civility seems to have gone to die.

But the message it’s trying to get across begins with each of us.

The institute, founded by a couple of Presbyterian ministers, has a mission that’s pretty clear from its name.

And it’s been promoting a different way of dealing with each other for about 15 years -- unfortunately some of the least civil 15 years in our history.

Co-founder Cassandra Dahnke told me at last count 26 of the 535 members of Congress had signed on as honorary co-hosts of its Citizens’ Civility Symposium (none from Indiana or Illinois).

Now I remember how much fun it could be during my newspaper career to cover a good dogfight -- even to bounce some “he said-she saids” back and forth in search of a story.

I don’t recall anything as fierce or pervasive as what we’ve had lately.

And where has all this gotten us? Check out the public opinions of Congress, or politicians in general -- or the media.

Is anyone else as weary as I am of hearing how bad the other guy is and of all the ulterior motives?

Or would you, too, like to hear a candidate explain how he or she is going to serve?

Or even how he or she will work toward consensus on which issues government should and shouldn’t tackle and how best to handle them?

What is this civility? Dahnke and co-founder Tomas Spath boil it down to this:

“Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”

If that doesn’t describe the politicians asking to represent us, it probably never will unless we require it of our leaders.

I wish the institute well.

Anyone interested in supporting civility personally can register for the symposium or learn more about the movement through its website.

David C. Allen is retired from careers as a Northwest Indiana newspaper reporter and editor, college journalism instructor and corporate communicator. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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