A Few Thoughts on Civility and Leadership in an Angry World

leadershipI don’t know if Facebook represents society as a whole or not. I’ve seen research that indicates either could be true. If, however, Facebook is representative of how we interact with each other in the real world then we are faced with some challenging extremes. There are two that standout on the granddaddy of social media. They are 1) the people who attract followers because they are thoughtful, principled and articulate and 2) there are the people who criticize them. They are like drive-by shooters. They hear a comment that is at odds with their beliefs so they raise their weapon, pump a shell into the chamber and begin shooting with no concern about the effect on either their target or themselves.

It is easy to be a critic. All you have to do is disagree, throw in a quote from criticssome pundit with a different point of view and wait for reaction. Then when you get one you seek to humiliate and destroy the person by engaging in name calling, innuendo, and insults. Frankly anyone can do that. It takes no intelligence, no research and no critical thinking skills to level a broadside of invective at an opponent. But – If you do that you should know that everyone who sees, hears or reads what you said has more likely than not formed an unfavorable impression of you. And – that impression can last a very long time.

If you think of yourself as a leader or want credibility as a critic you have to adopt a different more reasoned approach. George Will comes to mind as a conservative with whom I disagree but whose calm, reasoned and factual approach can often cause me and others like me to actually listen before we respond. Most critics don’t listen, they are impatiently waiting to interrupt with their comments despite having neither heard nor considered anything that was said.

argument cartoonIf you want respect and credibility then you must offer your point of view in a civil manner with verifiable evidence combined with recognizable compassion. If your goal is to convince the other side that they are wrong and should support your point of view you will never accomplish that by saying, “idiot Republicans, Ignorant Democrats,” or generalizations like, “All liberals are corrupt.” That approach only serves to insult and offend. It is always good to remember this, “people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” If you want to win supporters you must make them feel something positive and cut out the juvenile attacks. You won’t win every time, but that’s better than constantly losing because your audience finds you juvenile and offensive.

Classy, educated and refined adults just don’t act that way but political issues are such that the mere mention of a hot partisan topic seems to bring out primal survival instincts. “Kill the enemy before he kills you,” even though the so-called “enemy” may not have shown any aggressive tendencies.

profanityShowing anger, using insulting language and name-calling usually damages the user more than the target. Even so, there may be hope for the relationship unless you allowed profanity to invade your language — then all is lost. Once you become profane you have carved your identity out for all to see as one who shoots from the lip, offers no credible evidence, is severely lacking in vocabulary and who has no sense of decency.

Why did I write this? Frankly I don’t know because I’ve written similar things before with no discernable effect. I keep trying, though, because of my deeply held conviction that if we can begin to have logical, thoughtful and civil discourse between opposing political sides we will be on our way to a more effective government and a better society.

People, unfortunately take their lead from those they see on TV and read about in the papers. If those they admire and respect, take their arguments to the gutter or the alley their followers will likely follow suit. Leadership means among other things, that you set a good example, that you raise the bar and help to lift your followers to another more respectable and considerate level. I’m talking about all leaders from the outspoken guy on your block who has an opinion on nearly everything all the way up to the President of the United States.

priorities at riskIf you see yourself as a leader and see evidence of a growing number of followers you have a responsibility to them to provide a respectable, considerate and knowledgeable example. If you lie, they will see lying as an OK thing to do but if your honesty is legendary your followers likely will see that as a highly admirable trait and seek to gain the same reputation. Leadership doesn’t just happen. It starts with how you treat other people. As I’ve always said, If communication is not your top priority all other priorities are at risk.

And from where I sit — that’s the truth.


One thought on “A Few Thoughts on Civility and Leadership in an Angry World

  1. Excellent post, Bob! Your comments on civil discourse especially. I immediately thought of our U.S. Senate–it claims to be the greatest deliberative body in the world, but now they can’t seem to hold a civil conversation.

    Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.
    M. Atwood


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