When Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. spoke at the culminating World Civility Day event in Hobart this month, he gave his father a lot of credit for making Hill the man he is today.

As parents, we'd like to believe we could treat our children like lumps of clay, shaping them into the people we would like them to become — or like robots that could be programmed to act the way we believe they should.

That's not how it works, however. Children have minds of their own. They watch their parents more carefully, seeing what they do as well as what they say. Parents need to remember to teach by example.

Hill's father did just that.

Before having children, Hill's father bought land to build a home.

"And immediately upon securing this piece of property, he was confronted by his would-be neighbors who suggested in no uncertain terms that neither he nor his family would be welcome in this home," Hill said.

His father built his house there anyway.

"A few short years after I was born, some of those same neighbors tossed a bomb in the house," Hill said. "This was in the 60s, and it was a valuable lesson to us because my father stood his ground."

Hill admired his parents for standing up for what's right.

"For me, my father was my hero. And I often think what this nation would be like if every little boy in America could say, 'My father is my hero.'"

The neighbors' example showed hostility, something to ponder as we pursue civility in public life and in our personal lives today.

Hill's father, from his son's perspective, did the right thing. When he and his family were under attack, Hill stood his ground but didn't attack. And as we know now, half a century later, his course of action was just.

Curtis Hill learned to stand his ground. But he also learned when to back down.

"We live in a world where civility, it's almost an oxymoron," he said.

"You know, folks, when we talk about civility, it is something we have to learn. It's not in our nature."

Hill told of being in a political contest when he found out one person he thought was a supporter was working against him.

"Well, I was madder than a hornet," he said, and vowed not to speak to him.

Some years later, the man apologized to Hill.

"Well, I glared at him, and I walked away."

About six weeks later, he was in the grocery store and saw that guy again.

"I said, you know what you did to me was absolutely wrong, and you were a jerk. But I'm going to be a better man and forgive you."

Hill learned the power of forgiveness. 

"It was my heart that had turned black," he said. 

Hill reads his Bible, and it shows.

What Christians refer to as the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want them to treat you — is a principle that is pretty much universal in the world's religions. It is, however, a lot easier said that done.

In politics, Hill said, a candidate should convince people to vote for that candidate based on attributes, not by attacking an opponent.

That's civility. That's following the Golden Rule. That's what we need more of.

The political tensions at the national level are obvious as armies of political supporters line up against each other. They attack each other on Twitter, on Facebook, even at family dinners.

Hill is trying to tear down those fortifications.

"When I start a discussion, when I start a conversation, I'm willing to tell you right off the bat, I might be wrong. And I have a feeling that when I start a conversation with I might be wrong, that might suggest to you that you might be wrong, too. 

"And if both of us recognize that we may not have all the answers, that we may be wrong, perhaps we can actually listen to each other and collaborate and create a resolution to a conflict."

Instead of acting like children, people who have forgotten or intentionally ignore civility should start acting like adults.

Hill quoted the proverb that says, "A society is great when old men plant trees whose fruit they will never see."

That brings us back full circle to Hill's respect and admiration for his father.

What would this nation be like if more fathers were more involved in the lives of their children and of their community? 

I want children to learn how men can work together to accomplish big things like building playgrounds or houses. I want them to learn how to mend broken machines, broken fences, broken hearts.

Men can be tough guys, like the kind we see in action movies. But men can be tender toward spouses and girlfriends — that's an either/or proposition, guys, you don't get one of each — and toward their children.

And men can show respect for others in society. It's as simple as holding a door open for someone else — regardless of that person's age or gender. Kindness and civility are contagious, but that takes work.

For Hill, for me, for many men, the example of a caring father made us who we are.

What would America be like if more children saw dads like this?

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.


Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.