In the past, I have not been a big fan of slogans. I just feel they're kind of cheesy, even the ones that are meant for serious purposes. I find it hard to believe that a group of World War II American service members about to discuss classified plans for D-Day in the local cafe stopped because they saw a "Loose Lips Sink Ships" poster.
Despite my previous skepticism about the effectiveness of slogans, I find myself advocating the return of one that was first launched by Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon in 2010: Choose Civility.
Changnon created this community-wide campaign after hearing about the unruly behavior of parents and teachers attending school district budgetary meetings around the county at a time when state funding cutbacks due to the recession meant quite a few layoffs and program eliminations.
Changnon said the campaign was inspired by the work of P.M. Forni, author of “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct."
The Stanislaus County Office of Education convened a board of advisors made up of community leaders from around the county — including then Turlock Mayor John Lazar and Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva — with the goal of helping to guide the initiative.
The SCOE and board of advisors came up with a list of “Top 12 Principles” of civility. They included: listen, respect other people’s time, don’t shift responsibility and blame, accept and give praise, respect others’ opinions, acknowledge others, speak kindly, apologize sincerely, refrain from idle complaints, think the best, accept and give constructive criticism, and don’t speak ill.
At this point, you might be wondering why I have had a change of heart about slogans and am starting my new pro-slogan lifestyle with one that should be common sense for those living in a democracy. My new outlook on slogans has developed after attending a number of recent public meetings in which I witnessed truly uncivil behavior by members of the community, many of whom I consider leaders.
The incident that first opened my eyes to how fast a community meeting can turn into a mob scene was a parent informational night at Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy last spring. The meeting was held to discuss possible options to solve the overcrowding situation at the popular dual language magnet school.
I understand a parent's outrage when a situation arises that could possibly affect their child in a negative way. I just don't think that belittling the school administrators who are trying to present information about possible solutions is constructive or acceptable behavior. Many of the parents shouting their displeasure at the district's lack of foresight in admitting more students than the campus can hold — which is exactly what happened —I recognized as people who themselves hold positions of responsibility in their respective organizations. People I've seen give public reports. All I could think was how would they react if treated with the same disrespect.
I believe in letting public agencies know when they've erred, but in a way that will most likely bring about change. Screaming isn't it.
The school meeting was just one incident of uncivil behavior that I've witnessed in the past several months. In other meetings, I watched as consultants paid by the City were badgered relentlessly when trying to give a presentation. I've also heard neighbors laughing and yelling at neighbors, instead of working together to find a compromise that works for everyone.
I'm not looking to change Turlock into a "Stepford Wives" community, where everyone is the same and there is no conflict. Our town is made stronger by its diversity in opinions. I just think that public discourse would be much more productive if the “Top 12 Principles” of civility were honored at every meeting.
For a refresher on civility, visit stancoe.org/civility/ and make sure to purchase a few dozen Choose Civility posters, book marks, wristbands and lapel pins to hand out at your next public meeting.