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Community Conversation: Communicating with Civility and Respect in Divisive Times

The community conversation about communicating with civility and respect in divisive times took place on Oct. 25, 2021.


Discuss why you feel it was important for you to be here today? What did you learn in the small group discussion?

  • We’re all different.
  • All of the reasons we discussed are components of our community and they’re all different.
  • We have kids in the district and want to be representative.
  • We’re concerned about the incivility of behavior that’s been taking place.

What types of uncivil behavior have you witnessed?

  • Social media vs face-to-face: it’s very easy to be misunderstood.
  • People yelling from the crowd “liar” and nasty comments at a community forum for candidates.
  • People are talking out of turn, interrupting when it’s not their turn to speak.
  • Insults, labeling people.
  • People are tagging friends on social media to call in reinforcements.
  • False information & mischaracterizing information.
  • Misinformation
  • Pulling kids into the conversation.
  • Over-generalizing and/or stereotyping.
  • Demonizing

What are the consequences of your incivility? What is the price you’re going to pay for taking an uncivil path to gain your victory?

  • People in power, when they act in this behavior, don’t face consequences.
  • Kids suffer because this is the behavior that they’re learning.
  • It’s difficult to get anything done - when it’s all about the fight & who wins, it’s difficult to move forward because the focus is off of the kids.
  • Broken relationships
  • It affects parents, children, all generations.
  • People won’t share, participate, engage - there’s a fear of sharing.
  • People will disengage and withdrawal.
  • Communication will drop.
  • Violence
  • Division just gets worse & people dig in more.
  • If we went back to basics, love thy neighbor, we wouldn’t have this list.
  • You have to allow some passion on topics for freedom of speech.
  • Disrespect runs both ways - among the Board, to the Board, to the public and among the public. It’s never always them.
  • In a structured meeting, you must follow Roberts Rules.

How have you been guilty of any of these uncivil acts? What was meaningful to you about this small group discussion?

  • Society is not what it used to be. We could go back to how we were raised & respect was being taught at home. Today, there are households where respect isn’t taught & it’s taught by neighbors, counselors, teachers.
  • Ownership. It was tough to take a look at ourselves.
  • A lot of the behaviors that we see happening is because there are no consequences - you can say pretty much anything you want without being sent to your room, getting grounded, etc. We don’t have a modulator in our lives because we can communicate anonymously.
  • It’s interesting that we’re throwing around the word respect, but I don’t think we all define the word the same. I don’t think we’re willing to take that leap. Sometimes respect looks different in different cultures. If I, as a teacher, don’t understand that, I could be disrespecting a student without knowing it.

Brainstorm ideas that could increase the acts of civility.

  • Ask more questions to verify information.
  • Show respect for legit authority: kids respecting teachers, counselors, police.
  • Assume that the other person is coming from a good place or their best intention. This will change the interaction even if you disagree. It humanizes them.
  • Don’t stereotype just because they have a similar view. Just because you have a similar viewpoint doesn’t mean that you agree with everything. Just because you have a certain political point of view doesn’t mean you agree with everything associated with the party.
  • When someone won’t listen, or isn’t willing to have a conversation you make assumptions/draw conclusions:
  • They’re closed off, narrow minded, a fool.
  • If it’s a politicized issue and they cut you off, they’re arrogant, disrespectful.
  • Or, I feel guilty because I shouldn’t have brought the topic up.
  • How do you feel if you’re the one who gets cut off?
  • You think “What a jerk”.
  • What happens when you see them at another meeting?
  • You think “There they go again…”
  • You might cut them off or talk over them.
  • What do they think about you?
  • This becomes a cycle.
  • We are creating this divide. It’s not politicizing - it’s creating evil vs. good.

Pick one example in your life over the last 6-12 months where somebody did something and you assumed the worst. How did you contribute (think/feel/act) to the polarization? How did your labeling of another person contribute to your reaction?

  • Sometimes it's necessary to recognize that you don’t have a common ground and stop having that conversation.
  • By labeling someone, it stops you from seeing the whole individual
  • When people are going to share their story and the other person won’t believe them because it’s not their experience, that’s really hard to get past.
  • There’s a lot of people who have a difference in thought because they have different experiences. You have to make the decision to move past the discussion and understand that you’re not going to agree. If you can do that, it’s possible to still communicate respectfully.
  • As we speak about equity, sometimes people make general observations or conclusions based on their own experiences, but don’t understand that people don’t have the same experiences.

What can the Board do to help build civility?

  • Have community conversations about the volatile topics. Exposure is the way to stop labeling. A best practice would be to give exposure to people who have different viewpoints in a civil way.

What do people need to make this step toward communicating with civility and respect?

  • They need to be heard. Be curious.
  • If you start from differences, you’ll rarely find commonality. You must start with what you have in common.
  • We’re all here because we love our kids, we love our teachers, we love our schools. That’s what we have in common.
  • Is there a better way to ask why someone believes/feels that way so that it’s not taken as critical but as a genuine curiosity?
  • I ask myself, what might I be missing that’s part of your reality that’s not part of mine. In order to hear your story & believe it, I have to ask myself that question.
  • If I’m listening to drill down to what the need might be, I might need to ask the person to tell me more.
  • Perception checking: making sure that the other person understands that you’re listening and heard what they were saying. For example, “Let me make sure I heard you correctly” vs. “Ok, but…”
  • We’re all here to talk about community issues. We need to define the problem to solve it. I’m not as much interested in relating to everyone here. I want to solve the problem.
  • Define the problem: ex: masks in schools. Let’s look at scientific facts. Take the time to get the facts.
  • They need to be commonly agreed to facts - not facts that one side believes but the other doesn’t.
  • We have trust issues in this country. For example: whose facts?
  • Incivility will keep you from understanding the other person because you won’t find that commonality.
  • You need a team, but you need people who think differently.
  • As a community, diversity in thought is what makes this community great. The goal isn’t to get everyone to agree, it’s to have conversations in a civil manner. The truth is, we’re in unprecedented times where there are facts and opinions on different sides and having a different school of thought is ok. But, how do we do this while still being civil and discussing topics respectfully?
  • You need to listen to why someone feels the way they do. You need to respect where a person is at in their thinking.
  • If it’s not about relationships, that’s why we’re all here. We have to relate to people all day long in our lives.
  • It’s got to come down to respect even if we don’t agree. If you at least respect one another for your beliefs, that will help cut down on the rancor.

How can you help increase the respect out in the community?

  • I try to be civil in the Facebook world. Try to explain in a respectful way, but at some point, you have to agree to disagree.
  • Retelling a story or a possible alternative scenario can help
  • Listening with intention.
  • People need to get more involved with the schools so they can actually see it with their own eyes, not just “I heard it…”