Living the Questions: What does civility actually mean, and is it enough? | WBEZ
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Living the Questions: What does civility actually mean, and is it enough?

A question from Kevin: “I have been hearing a lot of deconstruction of the word ‘civility.’ The debate around this word has become, like so many other things, binary. ‘Civility’ is either a tool of oppressors to silence those on the margins, or it is something that is necessary for every single conversation and dialogue. I’d love to hear something about this word — what it actually means, in what contexts can it be helpful, in what contexts can it be used as a tool to silence anger.”

Takeaways from the podcast:

— What is the inner work of civility that goes deeper than the surface of our encounters with each other?

— What is the goal of civility?

— “My concern for a while has been that the word is too meek; that it’s about being nice and tame and safe, and I don’t think stepping into any of the dark places and the fraught places right now can be nice or tame or safe. I always reach for other words to attach, like ‘muscular’—it has to be muscular, it has to be robust—this language we use in the Grounding Virtues, ‘adventurous civility.’ It needs to be an adventure.”

— “To use civility to silence anger is using a simplistic, binary understanding of civility as a kind of passive-aggressive weapon. And that’s not what I mean when I use the word.”

— “Civility is internal work that each of us needs to do.”

— “A question we fail to ask, so much, in American life is not just, what do I want to happen here; what do I have to say; what do I care about; what is at stake? But, what is the most effective way that my words can be heard? What is the most emotionally intelligent way, which is also going to be a productive way, that I can embody and represent and give voice to what I care deeply about?”

— “Creating spaces and experiences of robust, adventurous civility is actually very strategically effective because what you’re doing is you’re creating a space in which it is reasonable to ask people, smart people, complicated people who’ve been through complicated things, to let themselves get uncomfortable in the presence of a stranger.”

— “I am passionate about what I am passionate about. I’m scared about what I’m scared about, or I’m angry about what I’m angry about. And I know there are things I don’t understand, and I don’t want to stay this way forever, and I don’t want us to stay stuck here forever. So, I want to change and grow, and I invite you to be with me in that spirit too, and let’s see what happens.”

About the Living the Questions series, from Krista Tippett:

"I think of a good conversation as an adventure. You create a generous and trustworthy space for it, and prepare hospitably for it, so the other person will feel so welcome and understood that they will put words around something they have never put words around quite that way before. They will give voice to something they didn’t know they knew — and you will be a witness to thinking, revelation, in real time. This is one reason that radio/podcasting is such a magical medium: Everyone who listens joins that room, becomes a witness, the moment they push ‘play.’ They are also there for the revelation. It’s a form of time travel. And if the conversation is edifying (one of my favorite, underused words), we all sync up in some mysterious way across time and space and grow a little together.

In recent years, I’ve discovered that I really like being on the other side of a conversation too. Maybe because I’ve experienced that thrill of revelation so many times, I approach someone asking questions of me with great anticipation of what they will draw out of me that I can’t draw out of myself. So, last summer on social media, my colleagues and I asked for questions you’d want to throw at me. We received, and continue to receive, such a bounty."

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