Civil Discourse & the Golden Rule following the 2016 Election ~ Saying “nice” is playing nice

by faithgibson on February 18, 2018

Originally posted Nov 25, 2016 ~ a 20-minute read ^O^
Lightly updated February 18th, 2018, 
four days after the latest school shooting in Parkland, Fla

This was the first essay written by me in the weeks following the 2016 election.



Civility, that is, playing ‘nice’, is both the ethical choice and smart politics in the aftermath of the 2016 election, and the lack of civility by politicians and the American public is an increasingly troublesome issue in the current highly-partisan political climate.  


FACT: The statistical outcome of the popular vote and the electoral college differed widely in the presidential election of 2016.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, with nearly 3 million more votes than presidential candidate Donald Trump

However, President Trump legally won the vote via the Electoral College with 306 votes vs. Clinton’s 232 votes.  So the matter of who is our president for the next fours years is definitively settled, irrespective of our personal thoughts and feelings about the issue.

The obvious ethical choice for all American citizens, irrespective of our party politics, is to support bipartisan cooperation.

Observation: In the wake of this troubling outcome, Americans on both sides of the political divide are being both outraged and outrageous in their choice of language, as anyone who reads their Twitter feed or comments on public blog-post can easily attest.


Informed Opinion: If we are as smart as we think we are, we would gladly let ourselves be guided by eons of human history, as well as our human nature, and acknowledge that the absence of a civil discourse puts our democratic institutions at great risk, no matter what your party affiliation, who you voted for, or what you think about the last election

Without a civil discourse, our democracy is incredibly vulnerable — we risk losing our grip a functional democracy and devolving into a 3rd world banana republic.

I suggest that we use some of that “drain the swamp” energy to take the unprintable and unspeakable vocabulary out the current public discourse.

Verbs of Civility

The critical difference between ‘civilization’ and humans as a ‘brutish’ group of hairy primates not long down from the trees is what they do with their hands and what they say with their mouths.

Without civility, we can’t co-exist peacefully in close proximity. This means we can’t benefit from our collective abilities and ultimately, that we can’t sustain the rule of law as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

However, the historic idea of civility cannot be meaningfully discussed without first having a fuller understanding of how and why it developed. What did it mean to be ‘civil’ in the ancient world of 3,000 BCE, and why does this element of behavior matters as much now (if not more) than ever before?

… words, Words, WORDS & MORE WORDS!

We teach our kids that “stick and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me”, but we all know that isn’t really true.  So it is helpful to understand where this word — civil — and the ideas it generated — comes from and why still matters.

Our words “city”, “civil”, “citizen“, “civilian”, and “civilization” all come from the root word ‘cite (spelled ‘site’ in English). Originally the word described a physical place but soon was modified to describe the city’s inhabitants as ‘citizens’.

Over the centuries, the basic idea of “civil” came to describe a way of being – an important set of human behaviors — that were reliably successful in protecting and promoting life within the enclosed wall of humankind’s the first cities.

This idea of ‘civility’ ultimately became the historic definition and essential attribute of our modern idea of ‘civilization’.

~ Definition: CITY comes from the Middle English word ‘cite’, which traces back to the Anglo-French word ’cite’. The original Old French word came from the Latin root cīvitāt- (stem of cīvitās). ‘Citizens’ referred to those who lived in a civil (i.e., city).

The History of Civility and Citizenship

Humans began to congregate in increasingly large groups very early in our history as a species. The larger the group, the more opportunity for individual flashes of genius, and the more likely that others in the group would improve and build on these new ideas. Thus the collective creativity of larger groups could accomplish many things that smaller isolated groups could not.

Accomplishments built on intergenerational and often inter-cultural knowledge and expertise became a form of cultural cross-pollination that helped earlier peoples invent new ways to improve their lives and advance the human species.

The Birth of Cities and Successful Ways of Civilization 

Geographical locations where populations of considerable size congregated came to be known as ‘cities’. In order to protect life and property in the ancient world, most early cities were walled and gated and guarded at night.

A large part of the city’s population left the protection of the city walls each day to farm in nearby fields, hunt in the woods, fish in the streams or travel to other places as merchants and traders, then returned to the communal safety of their walled city in the late afternoon, just before its gates were locked at sundown.

However, land inside a walled city was always at a very high premium (think Manhattan, London, or Paris). People had to build upward (multi-story buildings) since there was no room to build out. This is still true for cities everywhere. Crowding was a natural condition of city life, so the personal conduct of each and every individual inevitably affected many others.

A historical example from the Middle Ages would be throwing the contents of one’s chamber pot out a 2nd-floor window as people were walking up and down the street. Many otherwise ‘ordinary’ activities — behaviors we might think of as “individual freedoms” today — become big problems for citizens of a crowded city.

The Disrupters: obnoxious behavior is uncivilized

Other examples of uncivilized behavior include public drunkenness, lying, personal insults, name-calling, gossip, purposefully spreading unfounded and harmful rumors, other forms character assassination, abuse of power (including gender discrimination), extortion, the threats of violence and retaliation, and other “uncivil” behaviors.

In order to live in any city, whether ancient or modern, it is necessary to cooperate with others. This means that we take the consequences of our action into account BEFORE we act. This is the technical definition of “executive functions” that not only includes what we do (or failure to do) but also “speech acts”, i.e. what we say to and about each other.

Society long ago passed laws against physical violence and other forms of direct harm, starting as far back as 1760 BCE, with the Code of Hammurabi. In addition to many of the same principles of civilized behavior that appear in the Ten Commandments, Hammurabi’s Code included penalties for unsafe building techniques if someone was hurt or killed as a result of the contractor’s negligence (the very first product liability laws, a crime punishable by death).  But maintaining a thriving a civilization that consists of many bustling cities also requires that people be held responsible for what they say as well as what they do.

“In for a penny, in for a pound”

The rise of city life required humanity to develop rules for living peaceably in close proximity with one another. Interpersonal behavior had to be molded in ways that protected both individual safety and private property.

Public behavior also had to provide circumstances that allowed its inhabitants to move safely around the city streets. This protected the many creative and industrious ways that its residents used public spaces, such as congregating for religious and other social purposes and most especially the trade of goods.

Such buying and selling (as concentrated form of bus-i-ness that gave us our word for “business”) and other social activities required a structure for keeping the peace in public spaces and the peaceful settlements of disputes between individuals.

Obviously, some people — elders, chiefs, physically strong and imposing, etc,– stepped in as disinterested 3-rd parties, to help people work out their differences.  When such leadership did not arise naturally, public officials were elected or appointed by the group itself.

The fundamental purpose of those who govern is to serve the communal good of its citizens. The verbs of this activity — governing — are quickly followed by its nouns, with titles such as ‘governor’.

When those who govern aren’t required to take the public good into consideration, we call them kings, monarchs, emperors, dictatorships and despots. Since the end of the Revolutionary war in 1784, the US has not been burdened or exploited by self-appointed royalty or despotic rulers.

The greater civic good is ideally achieved by a combination of personal and public well-being. This is shored up by a reciprocal process of civic government (rules for civility) that naturally combines with individual civic responsibility. This produces a reliable level of everyday ‘civility’ that in turn protects the integrity of the city itself and all its citizens.

Our Responsibilities as American Citizens & the Public Officials We Elect 

It is a fundamental responsibility of all adult citizens in a democracy to conduct themselves with a basic level of decorum – i.e. the “demeanor” of a civilized person. Our legal term “misdemeanor” refers to situations in which the expected civil demeanor is absent in ways determined by law to be harmful to other people, property or the greater public good.

  • Words  really matter;  a “speech act” (i.e. promises & threats) have legal consequences
  • Weaponizing our verbal exchanges always works against us, at least in the long run
  • Truth-full-ness, as determined by facts in evidence is the standard of civilization
  • Truthful statements mean we could get up is a court of law, hold up our right hand and can attest to, without fear of perjuring ourselves
  • Truth-i-ness‘ is a concept invented by Stephen Colbert to describe things the speaker wishes were true, but actually are unsubstantiated assumptions or personal fantasies and is uncivilized behavior
  • Truth-FULL-ness is a core ingredient and critical underpinning of our democratic way of life and also an absolute necessity in the business world

If we allow truthi-ness to be substituted for truth-fulness, the history books read by the next generation of American school children will not make any mention of the pilgrims the landing on Plymouth Rock, King George III, the Boston Tea Party, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, sinking of the Titanic, WWII, Korean War, JFK’s assassination, moon landings by the US, bombing of the Oklahoma federal building, September 11th terrorist attack, wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, the Obama presidency, Sandy Hook school shooting, Russian ‘dabbling’ in the  2016 presidential election, and/or the “fun” fake news of recent weeks known as “Pizzagate” (2018 update — Bengazzi & UraniamOne-gate, FBI-gate, Muller-gate, etc ad nausiem).

Our history’s blank pages will instead contain a full record of Tweets by popular celebrities, politicians, and elected officials in office, but just for the year the book was published, as well as that year’s ‘historical’ YouTube links to cute cat and talking-bird videos.

  • All that’s necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.
  • People get the government they are willing to put up with.

Bottom line, civility is part and parcel of the great leap forward by humanity for the human species. It is the way we humans developed the rule of law — over many centuries and in many countries — as an instrument of humane treatment for members of our own, one-of-kind species.

Without civility, we can’t co-exist peacefully in close proximity; that means we can’t benefit from our collective abilities and ultimately, that we can’t sustain the rule of law as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.



Stay tuned for Part II ~ Saying “nice” is playing nice ~ where the rubber meets the road in civil discourse, circa 2017-18

Part II will also include “actionable” and non-partisan ideas for effective political participation as citizens interested in the Greater Good — i.e. the value of preserving our democratic institutions by keeping them democratic

And yes, it will be a heck of LOT of work, but worth it when you consider the alternative, but personally, my Russian is not good.


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