The Last Word
Civility and Respect Bedrock Principles
“Play nice with others” is counsel most of us heard as children at our mother’s knee. As a code for life, it might seem simplistic and naïve in today’s rough-and-tumble world. But it is profound advice, reflected in religious texts and the writings of the world’s great philosophers.
Treating each other with civility and respect — even those with whom we disagree — is a bedrock principle for a well-functioning society. It applies not just in kindergarten, but in our daily interactions with clients, customers, friends, family members, employees and strangers.
Most people are civil and respectful by nature. Most people are caring and polite. It is firmly established that long-term success and progress require such traits. The occasional books and articles advocating winning through intimidation, bullying or threats have been thoroughly discredited.
However, in two areas of society — social media and politics — the basic principle of playing nice with others is often cast aside and polite standards of behavior discarded. While social media platforms are important communications tools, we must not allow the anonymity and impersonality of social media to alter our basic decency.
Most people who engage in politics are caring, thoughtful, upstanding citizens who wish to serve others and make a positive difference. But too often, political dialogue descends into character assassinations by special interest groups, activists, political commentators and late-night talk show hosts. It occurs not just during campaigns, but also in debate over any number of ongoing issues that inflame strong feelings and demonize opponents.
I understand the reality of politics. The stakes are incredibly high. Winning or losing an election or a vote on key legislation is crucial. Politics guides the future of a country or state, and decides a multitude of issues like taxes, foreign policy, social services, and even war and peace.
But there is a better way to engage in politics than personal destruction. The attitude doesn’t have to be, “If winning requires destroying you, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
The notion of compromise seems almost old fashioned in today’s hyperpartisan political world. But, on many issues, each side giving in a bit to solve problems would better serve citizens than a one-sided victory opposed by nearly half the population.
Here’s a true story: Years ago, during his first campaign for governor, former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt faced a difficult choice. He was holding a pre-primary election campaign strategy retreat at his ancestral home in rural Loa, Utah. After reviewing every aspect of the primary election with his campaign team, Leavitt’s experienced and astute national campaign consultant told him he would likely lose the primary election unless he “went negative” on his popular and better-known opponent.
Leavitt asked for a break. He and his wife, Jackie, went for a walk around the country lanes of Loa, returning 45 minutes later. Leavitt told the group he would not go negative, even if it meant losing the election.
“It’s not who I am, or who I want to be,” he said. We know the rest of the story.
Leavitt is one of many examples of distinguished leaders who have proven that remarkable success can be achieved even while “playing nice.”