June 15, 2020

Civility MUST NOT be a Priority!

Did I really just say that? Stick with me.

You’d have to be almost entirely disconnected from modern society not to see that civil discourse is really suffering.

I understand that incivility is nothing new. However, the multiple crises the world is experiencing, and the rapidity of the news cycle and social media, have driven an atmosphere of polarization to an extent I’ve never previously experienced. This trend offers no solutions to the problems we face.

I won’t take a side on any particular popular issue here, nor even beat the drum (too much) about how we need to be more civil (though we clearly do).

My main point is that civility should not be a matter of transient convenience or aligned with the momentum or manners of the times.

It’s a mistake to make civility a priority.

Priorities, by definition place a rank on something based on perceived, relative importance to other things.

Priorities often change based on whatever else might have our attention at the moment. They are also often affected by whoever can more effectively influence, convince, cajole, shame or bully us towards their point of view.

This can happen rapidly, especially with the speed of communication in the world. Today’s priorities may be long forgotten by tomorrow. Witness the life changing implications of a tiny virus for nearly everyone on the planet.

Values are more meaningful than priorities.

Values (at least by my definition) have intrinsic worth which remains regardless of changes in circumstances.

Worthwhile values are, and should be, slow to change - and only then as a result of a significant, life-changing transformation in world view. Values remain regardless of all else clamoring for our attention.

Civility is an area which should be guided by values, not priorities. It’s not something that should be pushed to the back of the line by the crisis of the day.

Civility does not equate to agreement on the issues

By valuing civility, you’ll transform your whole approach to the conversations. You’ll be more willing to respectfully listen to the view of others - even if you strongly disagree.

You can be passionate in your position but civil in expressing it. In doing so, you might even discover some areas of agreement, where you were previously sure there were none.

You can be civil, even if others aren’t

I doubt many would believe that we win everyone over with civility. However, it should, more often than not, move us in that direction. Civility is not a formulaic absolute, but a solid principle.

On the other hand, incivility is almost always a formulaic absolute. If you give it, you’ll almost certainly get it back.

An ancient reminder of the efficacy of these principles:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Five Steps for Majoring on Values

Where should you start with your values (whether civility or anything else)?

1. Be clear in your heart and mind of your values

2. Remind yourself of your values frequently

3. Intentionally align your thoughts, actions and words with your values

4. Recognize and appreciate that others have different values

5. Give grace to all.

Will you sometimes feel alone in this quest? Most certainly - but you’ll sleep better at night.

What do you Value?

One comment on “Civility MUST NOT be a Priority!”

  1. Some interesting comments related to this, four years ago, from Joseph Grenny with VitalSmarts:

    In the future, we promise:

    1. To not turn vehement disagreement into personal attack.
    2. To periodically seek out reasonable advocates of opposing views—and listen deeply to them.
    3. To never outsource our political opinions to search engines.
    4. To get involved in the political process earlier rather than complain later about weak candidate options.
    5. To never again forward or “like” hatefully clever but intellectually vapid material even about candidates or positions we oppose.
    6. To continue to engage in the political discussion—and do so in the way we hope others do with us

    For more, here’s a link:


    I especially like number 5.

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