The epicenter of civility

Scott Raecker | Executive Director, the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University

The Idea: Make civility a signature asset of our community through an intentional focus on strategies to improve civility and in the process become a beacon of hope for the rest of the country and world.

What will it take for Greater Des Moines to become the epicenter of civility? To become a place where civility is not “something we do,” but “who we are,” in the way we work, address differences, solve problems, campaign and govern for the greater good? To be the pre-eminent place on the globe where people will come to study our best practices as a place that retains and attracts an engaged citizenry to live positively and work productively?

It can be done. And we have the capacity to accomplish the task if we identify civility as a key necessity to enhance our community for the future ― and take the intentional steps to make it happen.

Cynics may say it cannot be done. Many believe that our country, state and community are at all-time lows when it comes to civility. Cynics probably said the same thing at the time Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed former Cabinet member Alexander Hamilton in the duel made famous for current generations by the Broadway show “Hamilton.”

We will strengthen our community and transform lives with an intentional focus on civility.

Research is clear on what it takes to be civil:

  • Intentional relationship-building that includes the courage and curiosity to build relationships with others ― especially those who are different or disagree with us.
  • Clear and candid communication that embraces fundamental skills including active listening and seeking to understand as well as being understood.
  • Deliberate actions that include clarity of expectations, a positive mindset that drives productive habits, and an ability to hold ourselves and others accountable ― think “We become more civil when I become more civil.”

Individually, and as a community, we can enhance civility with strategies to bring these actions to life. We can make civility a signature asset of our community by building on the civility strengths our community already has, and being bold enough to address our weaknesses by taking the following 12 bold actions:

  • Host an annual National Symposium on Civility and the American Character with thought leaders from across the country (including our own) who can shape specific actions that can emanate as best practices from Iowa (a different focus each year ― public service, political campaigns, media, faith, education).
  • Gather thought leaders and grassroots activist from political parties to identify strategies on how to create a culture of positive and proactive campaigns that draw distinctions without being negative.
  • Maximize Iowa’s first in the nation caucus status to set clear expectations that candidates for president not only go through Iowa ― they go through Iowa with an expectation of civility.
  • Provide every chamber, city council, school board, county board and commission with tools and strategies for governing with civility.
  • Initiate intentional dialogue and faith field trips within our diverse faith communities to explore differences with a focus on finding commonalities.
  • Mobilize neighborhood associations with strategies to embrace and practice civility at the grassroots level including “getting to know your neighbor” events.
  • Engage our community service organizations to demonstrate civility in action by recruiting new members who will strengthen their roles through diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Rally our youth to be leaders in the concepts of character competencies necessary for civility.
  • Offer every elected official an opportunity to attend a session on how to govern with civility.
  • Identify strategies to set the trend for more civil social media expectations and interactions.
  • Develop intentional civility strategies and techniques that can be implemented within each of the 10 Capitals of the Capital Crossroads Vision Plan 2.0.
  • Implement with action the Show Some Respect campaign geared toward grassroots expectations in public dialogue and campaigns with engagement with the regional chamber forums.

We will strengthen our community and transform lives with an intentional focus on civility ― positively impacting our own lives and becoming a beacon of hope for the rest of the country and world. >