This Is How It’s Done – Redux

“If we cannot reconcile all opinions, let us endeavor to unite all hearts.” ~Nicholas Vansittart

Four years ago, in anticipation of a victory by Hillary Clinton and the expected resistance by Donald Trump to accepting defeat, I posted a message very similar to the one below.

Though my confidence in a Clinton victory was unwarranted, here we are four years later with a Trump unable to accept Joe Biden’s win. So, with a bit of editing, I once again share these example of men who exhibited grace and civility in the face of painful loss.

After an election season that showed us new lows in human behavior, a similar gesture by Mr. Trump would go far to restore civility and begin to rebuild unity after four years of strife and acrimony. It would also strengthen our precious but weakened democracy.

The likelihood of such a gracious act is about equivalent to me fitting into a size 8. It would require on Trump’s part a temperament able to look beyond his mirror to a nation in pain. It would require that he cared about someone, or something, other than himself.

Still, this reminder of how good men lose graciously may assure us all that goodness will ultimately prevail. Continue reading

Crossing the Bridge to Civility

“We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass)

Nearly three years ago, still reeling with disbelief and grief from the election that had called into question everything I believed about my country and my fellow Americans, a friend and I attended a lecture on “Civil Discourse.” The speaker was a University of Washington philosophy and religious studies professor, David Smith. I found Dr. Smith’s words both enlightening and comforting and wrote about them in-depth here.

In recent weeks, I find myself going back to the notes I took that day and thinking more deeply about what he said. It speaks to me not just of the looming election, but also these last many months of racial and social unrest, lived amidst a global pandemic … and, ultimately, our responsibility to care for one another, no matter who, no matter what.

Dr. Smith cited several reasons why we treat one another with incivility and disrespect, noting that we’re often not even aware of what drives our behavior. This, he said, is because most people don’t consciously choose their beliefs. “Everything we believe is the result of our life story.” Our beliefs rise within us as we live our lives. They come from how we were raised, our observations and emotions—which are often driven by fear.

Perhaps this knowledge gives us some insight into the people who do and say things that bewilder us. Perhaps it also gives us some insight into ourselves….

Causes of Incivility

  • Failure to recognize our own limitations – These may include intelligence, knowledge, and experience. We’re all wrong about something, but we don’t always recognize that. A most obvious example of this is the current president, who is unable to acknowledge mistakes or even admit that he doesn’t know something—a dangerous failing for someone whose decisions impact lives and economies. At a personal level, don’t we all occasionally find it hard to admit our shortcomings and our errors? The remarkable thing is that when we finally do, people respect us for it and we feel freer to be ourselves. This is one of life’s great lessons.
  • Bias – We want certain things to be true. And we cling to our beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence. As Dr. Smith noted, “We don’t always want the truth, especially if it means we need to make a change.” This brings anti-maskers to mind. For whatever reasons, they are determined to believe that masks aren’t a deterrent to the COVID-19 virus. Overwhelming evidence cannot budge them. We see it, too, when people cry “fake news” whenever they hear something that does not support their world view. Before we condemn them for their unthinking rigidity, perhaps we should examine some of our own biases.
  • I am X. I don’t just believe X, I am X – Some people over-identify with a label rather than take the time to discern whether they agree with everything that label represents. Example: “I am a Liberal. I don’t merely believe in liberal values, I am a Liberal.” Replace liberal with conservative, Republican, Democrat, Christian, atheist, etc. As a result, when someone disagrees with us, we take it as a personal attack, rather than a simple questioning of a particular belief or conviction. On the other side of this coin, there are people claim to hate X [conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans…] and thus they will hate everything about that person, refusing to interact civilly or to see anything but the demon label they have affixed to them.
  • The incivility of the other person – Their bad behavior triggers our own bad behavior. I’ve written about this so many times. If we can only learn to pause and remember that because someone else is behaving like a jerk doesn’t mean we must, too. Breaking that cycle of incivility changes everything. It confounds the person who’s misbehaving and takes the wind from their sails. It deflates their power and awards the win to you (and civility).
  • Emotion – We’re triggered by fears of what the world would be like if the other person’s view dominated. We see this in so many political ads, which not only play on existing fears, but seek to incite new ones and demonize whole groups of people. We see it in the movement for racial justice, too, where some people fear losing their privilege or entitlement if others achieve equity.
  • Uncertainty – Could I really be wrong about some of this? Related to the earlier bullet about admitting our errors, letting go of long-held beliefs is hard. It threatens our selfhood. We’ve seen examples of people leaving the white supremacy movement or other cults and realizing how controlled they had been by the powers of hate and fear. We see it in the people who are unable to admit they may have erred in voting for a corrupt and incompetent man four years ago. Perhaps we all carry some long-held beliefs that might need examining.
  • Closed-mindedness – Are we unwilling to consider alternative information or beliefs that might be inconvenient or uncomfortable? Can we hold our convictions and still be open-minded? This goes beyond mere bias to the unwillingness to even consider that there may be alternate points of view. We can see this in religious zealotry, political jingoism, and xenophobia. It has always seemed to me that anyone so unwilling to examine their beliefs is probably not all that secure in them.

Dr. Smith defined civility quite simply as “treating others with appropriate courtesy and respect.” He reminded us that to be full participants in a civil society, we need to expand beyond a circle of people who confirm our own opinions and biases, and interact with people who don’t share our views. We need to be open to the possibility that the other side of anything might contain some truth, something we can learn from.

At this critical juncture, as we seek to change the direction of our discourse, my hope is that each of us will see that we have a role in making that happen. In the words of the late Congressman John Lewis:

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility (3rd and final part)

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” (Maya Angelou)

Attribution: Donna Cameron[In part one, we looked at the epidemic of incivility that surrounds us and promises to get worse in the weeks ahead. We talked about the need for kindness and the courage it takes to be a kind person. In part two, we looked at how to exercise that ferocious kindness in service to the world. In this final part, we look at some of the biggest challenges to our commitment and the pledge we must make daily if we are to change the world. Here’s part three.]


There are people who are deliberately unkind and intentionally provocative. They are fueled by name-calling and inciting conflict. Often, they make outrageous claims—denying the Holocaust, saying Sandy Hook was a hoax, claiming masks only spread COVID-19. Engaging with such people just fuels them. You’re not going to change their minds with reason, data, or facts. Their minds are closed.

Do yourself and the world a favor and don’t engage with them. Don’t argue, don’t debate, and don’t give them a moment of your attention. Withholding interaction is like removing oxygen from a fire. It will sputter out and die. Just as oxygen feeds fire, attention is fuel for bigots, bullies, and fanatics. If enough of us withhold our attention, those people will lose any power they may have. They will wither and be seen only for the pathetic creatures they are.

What about the people I simply cannot avoid?

There are people we can’t escape. They may be family members, a close friend’s irritating spouse, or one of your company’s top clients. If the person is rational and open to civil discourse, see if you can engage thoughtfully, preferably by employing your curiosity:

“Hmmm, that hasn’t been my experience at all. Why do you think that?”

“I wonder how solid that evidence is. Here’s what my research has shown….”

Focus less on changing their views as on understanding them. If it’s clear that you can’t have a respectful conversation, look for a safe subject: “Let’s talk about something else. Did you see the [weather report, latest epic movie, basketball game…]? If you can’t avoid a truly disagreeable person, look for some common ground that you can share whenever you have to be in their company. Puppies are always good, so is vegetable gardening. When all else fails, silence can be golden.

How do I deal with someone whose politics sicken me?

Continue reading

A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility (Part 2)

“If you want to be a rebel, be kind.” (Pancho Ramos Stierle)

Attribution: Donna Cameron[In part one, we looked at the epidemic of incivility that surrounds us and promises to get worse in the days leading up to—and following—the November 3rd election. We talked about the courage it takes to be a kind person and how bold and insistent kindness is what the times call for. Today, we’re going to look at how to exercise that ferocious kindness in service to the world. Here’s part two.]


Marcel Proust wisely observed, “Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” We reinforce that belief when we treat such people with the same discourtesy they showed us. When we change the dynamic, we may not change that individual, but we offer witnesses a clear choice, and we fortify our own values. In choosing kindness, we are the ones determining the rules of the game.

Extending kindness only to those who are “worthy” is not being our best self. We don’t have to like someone—or even respect them—to be kind to them. We are kind because of who we are, not who they are.

OK, but how do I do that?

Remember the old joke about the tourist in New York City asking how to get to Carnegie Hall? And the answer: Practice, buddy, practice.

Like anything we want to do well, it takes practice. We’re gonna have plenty of opportunities to practice in the coming weeks and months.

Think about a time when someone spoke rudely to you, or belittled another person in your presence. Did your response to them reflect the best of who you are? Now, think about how else you might respond, what you could say that reflects your values and upholds courageous kindness.

Think not only about what you might say, but how you will say it. Your tone of voice. Your facial expression. How you stand to convey your strength and resolve. Then practice doing it, saying it. Experience what it feels like to be strong and kind. Then, when you find yourself in such a situation, you will know how you want to respond and will have the skill and the courage to do it.

Practice saying aloud such phrases as: Continue reading

A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility (Part 1)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Attribution: Donna Cameron[Dear friends, at a time when despair and hope alternately pervade my days—and possibly yours, too—I find I am writing to understand, to connect, and to seek solutions. I wrote this article in the hope that it might help those of us who believe fervently in kindness, yet also fear the bleak days ahead. As my anxiety grows, my attention span seems to shrink, so rather than one long blog post, I’m going to be offering three short ones over the next week. Here’s part one.]


A Call for Radical Kindness and Fierce Civility

Another election looms. For months, we’ve been seeing the same distressing behaviors we saw in 2016 and 2018. In the remaining days before November 3, it will only get worse. And after November 3, the divide will remain—deep, rancorous, and corroding—there is no magic outcome that will heal our nation. It’s going to be up to each of us to commit to healing.

Despite all, I still believe that kindness is how we will take back our political and social discourse and counter rampant incivility. Not a meek kindness, or a complacent acquiescence, but a bold insistence on courtesy, consideration, and respect. The more of us who recognize the power of kindness and exercise both the courage to use it and the commitment that we will not settle for less, the sooner we will turn the tide.

As I’ve said before, we’re in the midst of an epidemic of incivility. We see it in political rallies, on our streets and highways, throughout social media . . . and we see it in the ways we talk to one another and about one another. It isn’t pretty . . . and it’s disheartening to even a once-fervent optimist. Continue reading