Concordia pledges to be more civil in 2010

December 17, 2009 by

“Incivility is the new secondhand smoke,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten earlier this year. “Everyone feels impelled to disdain it, but nobody is willing to do away with it entirely.”

A growing number of people across the country — and in Concordia — would disagree with the second part. They are making a personal pledge to do away with incivility and bring civility back to public debate and behavior.

The Concordia Year of Peace Committee is doing its part by introducing The Civility Pledge, in time for New Year’s Resolutions.

The pledge — which says, “I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior, I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them and I will stand against incivility when I see it” — is available to be printed out and signed. The version for individuals is available HERE, while the one for groups is available by clicking HERE.

Bob Steimel, chairman of the Community Foundation for Cloud County, suggested the Civility Pledge to the Year of Peace Committee after seeing a newspaper article about the pledge and The Civility Project. “I just thought this would make people think about civility,” Steimel said.

“It’s a nationwide effort, and it’s something we can do here.”

The Year of Peace Committee was excited to add the pledge as its next project, said Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, who is chairing that group.
The committee grew out of the community forums that have been hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia throughout 2009.

“The idea for a Year of Peace evolved from the original community needs study,” Sister Jean explained. “People in Concordia were concerned about the levels of domestic violence, sexual assault and community discord, and looking to ways to focus on nonviolent communication. From those came an emphasis on nonviolence, and from that came the Year of Peace idea.

“Civility — being respectful despite our differences of opinion — fit right in with that,” she added. “We want to get the message out, and then encourage everyone to live that message: That all people must be treated with dignity and respect.”

While the Concordia Year of Peace idea is a relatively new communitywide effort — it officially began in September, with a proclamation from Mayor Greg Hattan — the emphasis on civility in public decision-making has been around for more than a dozen years.

In a landmark study at the University of Colorado in 1997, researchers Guy and Heidi Burgess defined a return to public civility this way:

“Clearly, civility has to mean something more that mere politeness. The movement will have accomplished little if all it does is get people to say, ‘excuse me please,’ while they (figuratively) stab you in the back. Civility also cannot mean ‘roll over and play dead.’ People need to be able to raise tough questions and present their cases when they feel their vital interests are being threatened. A civil society cannot avoid tough but important issues, simply because they are unpleasant to address.”

But, the researchers added, “People need to recognize that other thoughtful and caring people have very different views on how best to address their community’s many complex problems. Constructive debate needs to focus on solutions and not upon personal attacks leveled by adversaries against one another.”

“Civility allows us to truly debate issues without attacking each other,” Sister Jean said. “We believe it can allow us to work toward solutions, and do it together.”

In the next couple of weeks, Year of Peace committee members will be asking people throughout the community to sign the Civility Pledge as a New Year’s Resolution. Then after the first of the year, the committee will compile all those signatures as a demonstration of community support for civility.

“It isn’t about one person making a statement,” Steimel said, “It’s about all of us saying that this is important.”

Civility is just one aspect of Concordia Year of Peace

The Civility Pledge is just the latest project of the young Concordia Year of Peace Committee, a grassroots group that came together late this summer.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia have taken the lead in the 16-month-long “year” to celebrate peace and teach about living a nonviolent life, but the organizing committee has about 10 active members — and another 20 on the committee roster — from across Concordia.

The Year of Peace actually began in September, with a proclamation by Concordia Mayor Greg Hattan and then the city’s Fall Fest. The committee invited local groups and service clubs to show their support with a Year of Peace float and the Concordia Rotary Club, the Concordia Lions Club, the Frank Carlson Library, Catholic Charities, Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas and Manna House of Prayer rallied to the cause.

There was also a Year of Peace booth where volunteers handed out buttons, sold T-shirts and played two songs written for the committee by Patrick Sieben of Cloud County Community College.

At the same time, the Blade-Empire also began publishing weekly columns focusing on peace and living a nonviolent life. Those columns are written by Year of Peace committee members and local students, and are published each Friday.

The committee has also launched a blog to make those columns available to a wider audience and to encourage discussion about topics of peace and nonviolence. For more, go to http://concordiayearofpeace.blogspot.com

KNCK radio has also given the committee airtime each month to talk about its projects.

The Frank Carlson Library partnered with the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Year of Peace Committee to present an eight-week workshop that has just concluded at the library. “Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living” attracted more than 20 participants, and will be offered again beginning Feb. 7 at the Nazareth Motherhouse. (For information on that workshop, contact Sister Anna Marie Broxterman at 243-2149 or at annacsj@csjkansas.org.)

The library has also asked the group to present a workshop on nonviolent communication.

And the word about Concordia’s Year of Peace is apparently spreading.

Professor Susan Allen, director of nonviolence education at Kansas State University’s Women’s Center, has asked the committee to make a presentation in Manhattan in February about its projects. Dr. Allen believes that the Concordia effort could be a model for other cities.
The committee continues to seek ideas for projects throughout 2010.

The Year of Peace Committee received a $500 grant from the Community Foundation for Cloud County, to help cover some of its initial expenses, and then generated about $825 at a fundraiser in October.

For information about the Concordia Year of Peace or any of the planned events during the year, contact Sister Jean Rosemarynoski. She can be reached at 785-243-2149 or by email at sisterjean@csjkansas.org. Or, the Concordia Year of Peace blog is on the Web at http://concordiayearofpeace.blogspot.com.

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