Civility Costs Nothing

Local Government and State elections are coming up this year and I suggest civility should be a major selection criteria for any candidate to get our votes.

A quick search of local government across Australia shows that problems of uncivil politics are rife across our communities today, not just in my seaside village. Equally, I have come across countless articles lamenting similar situations overseas. Google civility in politics and you’ll see what I mean.

Civility costs nothing, and buys everything is a quote attributed to the very interesting Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who lived from 1689 to 1762, so it is not a new issue for public discourse!

Perhaps we need to revive the term ‘Civil Service’ and give it new meaning for today’s elected public servants.

If my local government is any indication, we need to do something to stop the infiltration of crass and uneducated social media mores into the former credentialed statesmanship of being elected to public office.

We have a councillor who uses his position of Councillor and his Australia Day honour award post-nominals to gain credibility on social media, but does not then conform to the statesmanship that both those positions imply. He instead thumbs his nose at both by being as rude, disrespectful and crass as he can and then claims he is acting as a private individual (despite trading on the virtues that being a councillor in our community provide to him.) Childish behavior at best, uncivil at worst.

We have hopeful candidates in the upcoming March State election and later this year we’ll have local government candidates wanting to become councillors, or incumbents seeking re-election on their local Councils—in both instances, these candidates need you to vote for them to get elected.

If my local Councillor mentioned above is any example, we need to prepare ourselves for some very uncivil behavior. He recently undertook a campaign on social media to pre-empt a scheduled deputation to the Council by a community member on an issue they are passionately trying to negotiate with Council. The councillor proceeded to proselytize his personal view (while quoting his interpretation of Council opinion and policy) of this issue in social media, again trading off his ‘credibility’ as a councillor and honour award recipient, before the ratepayer’s deputation had even been presented and the councillor even had the gall to pronounce on social media that the presenter lacked integrity — before their presentation had even been voiced!

This is conduct unbecoming the role of an elected community representative. It is not only rude, disrespectful and uneducated, it is uncivil.

How do we fix it?

We make civility a prerequisite in all candidates. Here are three traits we can demand from potential or incumbent candidates.

  •  A civil councillor is always respectful and considerate of others and avoids being offensive in language or actions.
  • A civil councillor is always able to  respectfully acknowledge the positions and conclusions of others.
  • A civil councillor is always able to listen and make coherent and concise arguments and compromises, rather than simply attack other people and their viewpoints

Before you give a candidate or incumbent councillor your valuable vote… do the research and discover how they measure up in the civility stakes. Don’t take what they tell you about themselves for granted. If they are that prominent in your community others will have had dealings with them.

Attend a Council meeting and see incumbent councillors in action before you decide to re-elect them. Make sure councillors seeking re-election are responding with a knowledge base, not just their personal opinions, or being led by other councillors in the room. Talk to other visitors in the gallery and get their impressions of candidates.

Interesting, too, at a recent meeting of my local Council, that there were several ‘observers’ who were attending on the basis of possibly standing as Council candidates later this year. It is an indication that frustrated community members are beginning to wake up to the fact that in an election year, the future of their community is in their hands.

If you are lucky enough to get a candidate knocking on your door, determine for yourself if they are genuinely interested in your community and if they are actually listening to your views, too.  Consider your community as your livelihood and measure up whether the person on your doorstep or leaving a flyer in your letterbox   can be trusted to represent your enthusiasm, interest, ideas, creativity and compassion for your community.

Have a discussion and pick a subject that you know the person will disagree with you on… see how they handle that and determine for yourself if they  possess the essential trait of civility.

Ask them what book they are reading, and perhaps what is their favourite television show for some interesting indicators to the real personality and the depth of character.

Don’t vote for the incumbent representatives  who don’t listen, who bully,  who aren’t interested in actually listening to your side of an issue,  who ridicule,  who are basically uncivil… just don’t vote for them and tell your friends not to, either.

Not one vote!


The Golden Rule of Christmas

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  Maya Angelou.

A new year begins.

There is a wonderful book by Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and that title describes how I often feel when Christmas comes round each year. Having been imprinted on a cold, snowy Christmas for years as a child, I have now, for many, many years  been living in a climate where Christmas is usually sweltering hot and somehow it still never does feel quite ‘right’.  For me, along with the current joys, this time of year is also always a time of unexplained ‘homesickness’ of Christmases past.

This Christmas was special with a new baby and a toddler to share the joys of our family’s Christmas and it is comforting to know that I am now contributing to the future memories of these little people …and how important it is in making good lifetime memories of love and happiness of how Christmas is supposed to ‘feel’, just as I experienced with my family all those years ago when I was a toddler having my first Christmases.

It seems to be popular nowadays for people to denounce religion and wear their atheism as some sort of badge of courage or perhaps, identity. Meanwhile, Time Magazine has declared Pope Francis as the Person of the Year in its annual feature issue for the closing of 2013.

And Christmas, too, seems to have a life outside religion with these declared atheists joining in Christmas cheer, Christmas holidays and Christmas gift giving. So far, Christianity is holding its own against the political correctness that tries to remove Christmas cheer from our classrooms and streetscapes in some sort of misguided attempt to sacrifice a country’s religious customs for fear they will ostracize non-Christians.

We went to the children’s Christmas Eve service of our local church. It was a lovely hour of children re-telling the Christmas story with humour and good will, and the church was packed with people and families of all ages, and all colours in a welcoming environment of Christian song, prayer and fellowship. It felt good to be there. It’s hard to explain but there is a ‘niceness’ to that experience. I felt sorry for the many little children in today’s society who won’t get a chance to experience a church service because their parents will never take them.

At the end of the day, religion is not about hellfire and brimstone, or about insisting that religious parables must take precedence over scientific fact. Religion is more about teaching the ethic of reciprocity, the golden rule that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us.

My daily newspaper today had a disturbing story about the rising statistics of primary school aged children now involved in crime in our State, from graffiti to theft, arson, home invasions, even a murder. The worrying statistics are being blamed by poor parenting, violent video games and children growing up ‘too fast’ with adult concepts.

There seems to be an anger, an unrest, and a spitefulness across much of our society and I think the golden rule goes a long way towards addressing this dilemma. We need to give kids (and adults, too) the skills to get outside of their own heads and understand the feelings of other people so that they can understand and relate to the consequences of their actions.

In my community we have pathways and roads that have to be simultaneously shared by pedestrians, cyclists and cars. If all these groups approach their journey with the golden rule in mind, I suspect we would not have the element of selfish rudeness and recklessness that sometimes occurs.

In my community we have wonderful playgrounds for children to enjoy. One day I had to go to three different playgrounds to avoid ignorant dog owners exercising their dogs  and ignoring the signs which declare their pets should be on a lead at all times. If these people were familiar with the golden rule they would instantly appreciate that their pet should be on a lead with small children present at a playground.

It’s now a new year and it holds a wealth of promise for us all.

Let’s be grateful that our hearts can hold love, let’s try to listen and learn more than we ‘tell’, let’s be good parents, grandparents and friends, and let’s always do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves in the cathedral of our being.

As the piece of string gets shorter as we travel life’s many roads, let’s move away from those self-centred people who are only about themselves, focussed only on their own achievements and needs, and instead find the many kind, truthful, and thoughtful people who are driven by ideas, creativity , helping  and sharing with others.

Let’s identify the ‘good people’ in our lives and then try and help our little people create the qualities those good people have.

Oh would some power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.

Robert Burns, poem To a Louse

Jan Smith