Dear Fringe Community,
In a normal year, January would be the time that I talk about being a badass goal-setter and treasuring your mistakes. But this year — as I sit in our now highly militarized capital city on the eve of Inauguration Day — it seems more appropriate to reflect on how we Americans engage with each other as human beings. Somewhere amid the chaotic eruption of hate, violence, anger, disappointment, and sadness that was 2020, we stopped seeing each other as people, and civility left our discourse.
One of the biggest misconceptions about civility is that it’s about being nice, polite, and politically correct. But these are all relative terms that vary based on culture, circumstance, upbringing, and many other factors. At its core, civility is about something much more universal: humanity and truth.
Being civil is to see others as human and treat them as such. Civility requires you to discard the Golden Rule that inherently magnifies your own beliefs and to instead adopt the Platinum Rule that places others’ perspectives as paramount. True civility asks you to see all people as entitled to the same wants and needs you have and to accept that those wants and needs may be different from your own.
True civility also relies on a thoughtful and intentional honesty that is uncomfortable for so many of us. It means speaking truthfully — but respectfully — to one another, not hiding or sidestepping your opinions or behaviors because it’s easier, more comfortable, or advantageous in the moment. It means owning your mistakes and telling people you care about the hard messages that they may not want to hear.
The dishonesty and dehumanization that led to the deadly insurrection on January 6 was yet another sign that our country is racked with a deep sickness of incivility. But as with many self-inflicted illnesses, sometimes it takes a real scare to motivate action toward getting better. I am comforted by the fact that incivility tends to appear in waves. Those waves get larger as societal unrest increases. That may sound scary but even the biggest waves wash back out to sea eventually. The question for me is, how long will we have between waves?
If we commit to addressing it together, we can revert this unhealthy pattern but it will take an all-out effort. Doing so will require us to be more humanistic and honest in our interactions with one another. It will require us to hold everyone — including ourselves— accountable when the core tenets of civility are abused or ignored. And it will require us to redefine our understanding of civility to be much, much more than politeness.
Tomorrow’s inauguration will be historic in its own right (cheers to our first female, Black, and South-Asian vice president!), but let’s also make it a day of healing, and allow us to step into the civility necessary to get our country back on dry land.
Be safe, be well,