Civility is a Choice!
Karen and Jay share thoughts on a return to civility in our public discourse as well as in the way we interact with each other in our personal lives.
A few years back, when the idea for the Sunshine Report first came to mind, I asked myself a series of questions about how to bring some practical positivity to others amidst the bitter, divisive, and sometimes just downright negative public discourse that constantly surrounds us. In doing so, the desire was to promote ideas, topics, and philosophies that inspire and motivate each of us, including myself, to make a positive impact, in our own lives and the lives of others. Amongst all the many subjects we’ve explored with the Sunshine Report, there’s one subject above all that speaks directly to the essence of this newsletter, and that is the need for civility in our public life.
It’s a subject we’ve spoken to on more than one occasion, primarily because civility is a pillar of a well-functioning free society. Without it, we run the risk of being unable to find the compromises necessary to make even the most basic of decisions that make us the great nation that we are. In poll after poll, Americans on both sides of the aisle have expressed their unhappiness with the lack of civility in public life, particularly in the political arena. It’s something we acknowledge and often bemoan, and want to see improved, but feel like we may not have much of a say in. Or do we?
The truth is, we do have a say, both with our actions and our words. It’s a matter of how we choose to employ them. Admittedly, it’s not easy work, as civility first and foremost requires respect and politeness even when there’s fierce disagreement. But in the event that we do disagree with someone, does it warrant disrespect? Being civil doesn’t mean we have to compromise on values, shy away from robust debate, or even agree, quite the opposite. But what it does call for is active listening and having respect for someone's else’s right to an opinion as much as our own, without attacking their character. It also requires us to actively search for common ground rather than immediately seeking out differences. This approach promotes the evolution of a solutions-based dialogue and discourse, which historically brings about positive outcomes.
Positive actions lead to positive outcomes. It’s a phrase I try to live by and use often in discussions personally and professionally. In fact, you’ve probably heard me use it here in the Sunshine Report. It’s a phrase that also applies to this conversation on civility. Many times, when we’re feeling like we don’t have a role to play in these larger, more macro conversations, it’s due to the fact that we’re unsure of what actions to take. However, if we make it a practice to regularly act with good intentions, with civility, we’ve already begun to make a difference, one step at a time.
Working Across the Aisle
While the headlines and rancor on television and cable news would have you believe that our elected officials do little more than squabble and bicker, there is, in fact, some good news to report. You probably won’t hear this prominently communicated in the media but right here in New Hampshire, there are a number of great examples of people putting partisanship aside to work across the aisle and get things done. In particular, take a look at what’s happening in our State Legislature right now. State Reps and Senators are reaching across the aisle to co-sponsor bipartisan pieces of legislation.
In fact, there are so many important issues that really don’t line up with party positions – but are issues that simply need practical, sensible solutions – so why not put party affiliation aside and try to make positive progress? In such areas as energy efficiency, protecting our environment, bail reform and the legalization of cannabis, our elected officials are actively reaching out to find common ground and solve the problems that New Hampshire citizens care about. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t typically make for ‘good television,’ so many of the times when your elected officials are getting things done across the aisle, they are not getting much if any recognition for it. Nonetheless, one of the great things about our New Hampshire system of citizen government is that our small districts allow our elected representatives to be close their constituents, highly responsive and committed to solving problems for the people they represent. Whether they get much recognition or not.
As one shining example, we honor the memory of the late Rep. Barbara Shaw of Manchester. Representative Shaw was a Democrat who was universally loved for not taking politics personally and was well known for always doing what she thought was right – no matter what party leaders might or might not want. She passed away late last year, and the mourning of her loss was felt in the House, where they honored her by leaving her seat open. She exemplified how putting people first can and should work, even in today’s often divisive environment. Not surprisingly, many fellow legislators connected with Barbara’s positive spirit and valued her mentorship.
So, the next time you hear the media highlighting partisan squabbles in our public discourse, take heart. The vast majority of the work that is being done is taking place in the trenches – where practical problems are being tackled and often solved. Not necessarily glamorous. But by practicing civility and putting our partisan differences aside, we see how much can get done. Not only solving problems today, but also in a way that strengthens interpersonal relationships and builds bridges for future progress as well.
The Story of Governor Sherm Adams and Lincoln, New Hampshire
Here in the 603, New Hampshire is known for many things, Our State Motto “Live Free or Die '', being the ‘First in the Nation’ Primary State, and our way of life. High on this list – and one of our most important strengths is our commitment to our local towns and cities. In other words, our sense of community. As the efforts of the Sunshine Initiative touch more and more communities in the Granite State, we find inspiration from those who have ‘done right’ by their hometown – the place that they call ‘home.’ There are numerous examples. However, there is one story, though not well known today, that truly exemplifies this worthy characteristic. It’s the story of Governor Sherman ‘Sherm’ Adams and the town of Lincoln located in the Franconia Notch Region.
People who visit this area of the state know the Notch Region as an awesome place to see some of the state’s best foliage in the fall as well as for the great skiing that it has to offer. Home to Cannon, Waterville, Ragged, and Loon Mountain, this is one of the state’s true tourist destination areas. But the region wasn't always this way. Up until the 1920’s, the region was primarily a logging area and whole communities were employed by large paper mills. However, in the 1930’s and ‘40’s, the economic fortunes of the region began to deteriorate. The mills began to suffer, and the region began to feel the effects of a post-war recession. It was clear that something needed to be done to revitalize the great communities of northern New Hampshire.
Enter Sherman Adams, New Hampshire Governor from 1948-1952. ‘Sherm’ knew the region well. Shortly after graduating from Dartmouth College, he had entered the lumber and paper business in Lincoln, as well as getting involved in banking. So, upon becoming Governor, he knew exactly what to do as he led the way in helping to restore prosperity to the region. Known for his frugality, he got the state’s fiscal house in order, realigned the makeup of state government and enacted programs to help seniors in the state, creating the ‘Federal Old Age and Survivors Insurance Program.’
But there are two more chapters to the ‘Sherm Adams/Lincoln, NH’ story that really make this special. The first involves the next step in his career after serving as Governor - his stint as the first ever White House Chief of Staff, a role created by President Eisenhower. Sherm Adams had run the Eisenhower campaign and had shown such skill that he was the obvious choice to help the new President run the country. Always committed to helping the region, in 1955, Sherm Adams organized a trip for President Eisenhower to visit the area. No sitting President had visited the region since President Grant in the late 1880’s, and the trip provided an immense public relations opportunity for the region. New Hampshire’s ‘North Country’ was showcased for the entire country to see. The splendor of Lincoln, Franconia, and the Notch were on full national display, creating an economic boost of immense proportion for the region.
But here’s the best part. Upon finishing his time in Washington, Sherm Adams didn’t go off to some distant place to retire. No such thing. He came back home – and was determined to do even more for his community. To foster economic development, he decided to bring a ski area to the region. In 1966, Loon Mountain opened its doors to 500 skiers and has never looked back. The community thrived and has continued to grow. Hotels, restaurants and various related businesses came to life. The population grew and so did the economy. Sherm Adams served for two decades as General Manager and President. Today, thanks to Sherm, there are 347 acres of skiing available and thousands of people visiting the area.
‘If you build it, they will come’ - a great line from ‘Field of Dreams.’ Well, Sherm Adams did build it, they have come, and his commitment to community has a created prosperous and vibrant future for the region he called home. A great example – a true leader, serving his community in the true New Hampshire Way!
Positive Profile of the Week: Neil Levesque
We are delighted this week to highlight a leader in our New Hampshire community who truly embodies the virtues of civility and decency – my good friend, Neil Levesque.
Neil is the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Since taking the helm of this organization in 2009, Neil has done a terrific job of nurturing bipartisanship and emphasizing civility in his role as Executive Director. He has led the way in organizing Presidential Debates sponsored by the Institute and working with each of the respective parties to attract a national audience while striking a tone of civility and honest debate.
Moreover, Neil’s even-handed and thoughtful leadership has earned him the respect of his peers, so much so that it was no surprise in his being selected to serve as hairman of the NH Primary Centennial Committee. In addition to his work supporting the New Hampshire Primary, Neil has dedicated thousands of honors inspiring our next generation of public office holders, policy makers, and influencers – while also devoting his time to important efforts in the larger community. Neil serves on the Board of Catholic Medical Center as well as the Board of Directors for the Pease Development Authority.
We thank you, Neil, for your generous service and especially for your leadership in helping in the effort to support civility in our public discourse. Well done and truly appreciated!
Quotes of the Week: Civility
“Civility is a choice.” - Dana Perino
“Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him.” - P. T. Barnum
“I think the country's getting disgusted with Washington partly because of the decline of civility in government.” - George McGovern
“Teaching civility is an obligation of the family.” - Stephen Carter
“Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail as you surely will adjust your lives, not the standards.” ― Ted Koppel