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Expert Works to Calm Rage

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Activists against health care reform shout at an August 2009 town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Jim Moran in Reston, Va.

Most of us distinguish words and actions, but there are those who donít. When you hear a really stirring, inspirational speech, it can motivate you to go out and do something positive. But when there is really negative, hateful speech, there will be those who take it up and say, ďLetís go.Ē

What can people learn in the wake of a tragedy like the Arizona shooting?

Itís a time of heightened awareness, and Iím so sorry that it has taken a time like this to get our attention. But while it has our attention, we need to take on personal responsibility to do civil discourse better.

Our programs focus on Members of Congress, college students, high school students, civic groups ó we approach it on so many levels because itís going to take all of them to shift the culture. We truly believe that is possible.

There is precedent ó think back to when everyone used to throw trash out their car windows. It was just what people did. Then there was the Keep America Beautiful campaign. Now, if you throw trash out your window, everyone is just horrified. 

There are so many examples of nasty words in public life. Where are the positive examples? 

Whenever you hear people expressing themselves from the strength of their arguments rather than tearing down their opponents, thatís civility. When people separate issues from people and not equate them with personalities. 

In our programs, we illustrate each of our rules with true-life examples of civility in Congress to show people that this isnít just wishful thinking.

What do you say to the argument that civility is a muzzle or just an outdated concept?

When we do training, we donít just teach people about concepts, we help them put it into practice. And what people find as it unfolds is that it actually benefits them to use civility and to listen. Just saying the same thing over and over and over again, louder and louder, doesnít get them the results they were hoping for. 

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