Civility requires less preaching and more teaching
In response to the November 3rd article “The Day After Tomorrow,” I felt empowered to write this response.
While the ideals of diversity and inclusion (D&I) encourage greater multicultural awareness and stronger acceptance between students and their differences, there remains a large gap between the marriage of diversity of views and beliefs vs. student behavior and accountability.
I liked the piece from Katherine Rowe and Benjamin Spencer. Though I feel strongly that institutions of higher education should be moving away from linking civility largely to interactions involving politics and social issues. Also that empowering civil discourse should require less paternalistic framing from ‘leaders’ and greater empowerment to and expectations from training directed at students.
Many university presidents, provosts, deans, diversity & inclusion leaders clearly have student success in their hearts and minds. They recognize that within differences, today’s campus and online student interactions often lack civil discourse, tolerance, listening, and shared respect. We read about higher education leaders strategically ‘calling for’ greater civility, new changes in school policy, or perhaps signing some PR-friendly online civility pledge.
There is a real difference between preaching and teaching civility. The latter in the form of short-term training that blends the underpinnings of soft skills, mindfulness, core values, and real-use dialogue techniques for use in challenging and stress-filled interactions.
Our organization started the ‘Walking the Ridge’ program as a one-hour solution to train entire campuses on civil discourse. Apart from the content and support material, we add a critical component – a visual anchor for shared accountability after the learning.
Studies show that in today’s business world and society, incivility gravely affects employee quality of work, commitment to organization, job performance, as well as surprising as patient safety in healthcare. Companies want new employees with more mindfulness and interpersonal soft skills, as well as human assets who have the confidence to build bridges rather than walls between diversity of views and differences with others in an organization.
Civility matters – not because it’s an antidote in this era of toxic polarization, but because it gives our young people the means to output healthier engagement to and through others. Civility inspires beyond the individual; and in a ‘me’ centered society, it’s badly needed.
Higher education leaders cannot magically impart civility, tolerance, kindness, or meaningful soft skills through a speech or an updated core values statement. Students deserve teaching and not preaching, especially when we seek to catalyze the positives of diversity and inclusion in our schools, workplaces, and communities.
Leaders, why would you expect a strong level of civil discourse from students who carry very little learning and training in the blend of skills, communicative techniques, and mindfulness that comprise it? Look at the uncivil actions from our popular, well-educated political, media, and business leaders.
Civility doesn’t come from degrees or decrees … it comes from training, practice, and shared accountability.
Students should be able to speak their beliefs, views, and opinions within a culture of greater diversity, inclusion, belonging, and trust. Such meaningful change in campus culture and individual growth will not come from top-down decree, but from a student base who is inspired and empowered with tips, skills, and techniques – together with expectations for accountability and cumulative contribution.
President, Walk the Ridge