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!

JAN SMITH