The Public Humanist

Civility Charter

The following is the current iteration of a “Civility Charter,” distilled from a public conversation at the newly formed Center for Civil Discourse at UMass Boston held on February 17: “Civility and American Democracy: A National Forum. The charter will define the relevance and role of civil discourse in our world today and serve as a guiding document for the ongoing work of the Center for Civil Discourse. The Civility Charter will also ground a series of “Democracy Debates” planned by the Center in the coming months to be broadcast and live streamed on the Internet. The hope of the Center is that a renewed focus on the virtue of civility will help reshape and improve political debates during this crucial election year and beyond. Widespread public involvement in the work of the CCD is welcome and encouraged.

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Civil discourse is the lifeblood of democracy. With it, we can achieve the mutual understanding that enables us to engage with each other respectfully. Without it, resolution of today’s complex problems is impossible.

We therefore call on public officials, journalists, opinion leaders, educators and citizens to disavow incendiary rhetoric and the politics of personal destruction, and to engage one another on fair and mutually respectful terms in order to address effectively our collective problems.

The Meaning of Civility

Civility involves a commitment to interacting with others on fair terms on matters of public concern.

Civil discourse acknowledges the complexity of contemporary problems and the persistence of deep differences.

Civility aims to address common concerns by fostering mutual understanding.

Principles of Civility

  • Civil discourse is not merely obeying simple rules of etiquette. It does not aim to avoid hard questions or deny the existence of fundamental disagreements. Civil discourse does not require unprincipled compromises, nor the surrender of fundamental commitments.
  • Civil discourse requires a willingness to engage with others in free and open discussions on matters of common social, economic and political interest.
  • Civil discourse requires taking seriously the ideas and opinions of others, attempting to understand the distinctive perspectives of others, and being responsive to others’ ideas, claims and reasons.
  • Civil discourse requires offering one’s own ideas and opinions in ways that are comprehensible and accessible to others.
  • Civil discourse is aware of and respectful of deep, persistent and reasonable disagreements about fundamental matters in large, complex, pluralistic societies such as our own.
  • Civil discourse is committed to moving conversations and policy proposals forward productively in the light of the best information.
  • Civil discourse requires a willingness to revise one’s own ideas and commitments in the light of new or better considerations.
  • Civility acknowledges that civil disobedience—public, nonviolent, conscientious disobedience of law seeking to promote justice—can be a form of civil discourse.

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