Civility < Honesty

School Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp informed the Board that she would be bringing the Civility Pledge to the Board for us to renew our commitment to it. This follows some tense interactions between Board members in recent weeks. I apparently missed one such exchange last week when I had to leave a Business Committee meeting early. I first saw the pledge when I served on the Board in 2001. These are the nine points it asks of its signers:

Pay Attention. Be aware and attend to the world and the people around you.

Listen. Focus on others in order to better understand their points of view.

Be Inclusive. Welcome all groups of citizens working for the greater good of the community.

Don’t Gossip. And don’t accept when others choose to do so.

Show Respect. Honor other people and their opinions, especially in the midst of disagreement.

Be Agreeable. Look for opportunities to agree; don’t contradict just to do so.

Apologize. Be sincere and repair damaged relationships.

Give Constructive Criticism. When disagreeing, stick to the issues and don’t make a personal attack.

Take Responsibility. Don’t shift responsibility and blame onto others; share disagreements publicly.

Nothing on this list is in anyway disagreeable to me. I like to think that I model this behavior. But I do find it incomplete. It has been used repeatedly in Duluth by the winners of power struggles to shame or attempt to shame the losers. In this it is hardly civil.

Civility is in many ways the least of the virtues. In fact some of the items on the pledge do go further than mere civility. For instance “agreeableness” goes beyond the mere formality of civility which demands the avoidance of unpleasantness. Perhaps these nine points add up to something beyond mere civility.

I was told this morning that in past years critics of the Red Plan asked that the School Board add “truthfullness” to this list before signing the pledge. Apparently Member Camerons demured saying that there are many shades of truthfullness. I agree with Mary on this point. Truth can be disputed. On the other hand Honesty, which might even fall short of the truth, is a reflection of it.

All these points can be faked and someone can put on the masquerade of civility. Sometimes, honesty, can be a bitter pill. For instance it was Jesus of Nazareth who called some of his critics “you brood of vipers!” That wouldn’t pass the “Speak Your Mind” civility test.

As long as there is a suspicion that duplicity is masquerading as civility the pledge will be very hard to enforce.

Last night at the School Board meeting there was a proposal to raise the requirement to call a special meeting from two people to three people. We were told that this was to abide by state statutory language. Yet when asked for time to confirm that this was what state statute demanded there was a rush to put limits on what a minority of two on our School Board could without waiting for an advisory opinion from experts. As I pointed out this violated the spirit of Parliamentary procedure which attempts to insure the freedom of a minority to express its viewpoints. Its hard to see any civility in this tyranny of the majority.

For me civility is all well and good but honesty beats it hands down. If there’s no room for honesty in civility…….who cares about it? Not me!

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