Monday, April 2, 2012

Speak Your Peace ~ The Civility Project

of The Portage County Gazette

After getting kicked out of a Portage County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, March 20, for being disruptive, Whiting resident Reid Rocheleau may want to take note of a new Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin campaign launched earlier that day, one aimed at encouraging civil discourse during public meetings.
The campaign, the Speak Your Peace Civility Project, is a community-based effort to urge citizens of the community to communicate in a respectful way, said Terry Rothmann, Community Foundation executive director.

“There is certainly a lot of polarization in the state right now,” said Rothmann. “As we watch the McDill Pond and the McDill Dam issue unwind over the last 12 months or so, it’s pretty difficult to have a conversation about whether we should refill it or not without name calling and finger pointing, and all of the things that lead to higher stress and higher emotion but aren’t resolving issues. That’s really what led the Community Foundation to the Speak Your Peace Civility project.”

The Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation founded the campaign in 2003 when dealing with some fairly high profile political issues. The intent of the campaign was to create an environment where the language and rhetoric was toned down and people began to have a civil dialogue in an effort to move forward. After creating and implementing it, Duluth-Superior made it available to other Community Foundations. The Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin adopted it this past fall.

“It’s a public information and community awareness issue,” said Rothmann. “We’re not going to end disagreements, but what we do want to do is create an environment where people can air their views in a civil manner and a civil environment, and through that process we all learn from each other in an effort where we can begin to move forward.”
He said in order for people to go from issues and obstacles to solutions, a dialogue is needed. “We need to go back to where we can disagree without being disagreeable,” said Rothmann.

Foundation Board President Amy Eddy said the campaign matches the Foundation’s mission. “The mission of the foundation is not just about giving and granting funds, but it is to make the community a better place to live, to retire, to play, to do all of those things,” she said. “This initiative is part of that. In order to do what our mission calls us to carry out, we really need to have a respectable discourse in the community. We thought that it was a perfect fit with our mission.”
Board members plan on promoting this campaign through presentations to government municipalities, businesses, organizations, students and anyone willing to listen. Included in the presentations will be discussion about the nine tools of civility, which include: 1. pay attention; 2. listen; 3. be inclusive; 4. not gossip; 5. show respect; 6. be agreeable; 7. apologize; 8. give constructive criticism; and 9. take responsibility.
“The idea of the nine rules of civility, and practicing them, is to allow for that dialogue to continue, and for us to learn from each other,” said Rothmann. “It’s pretty basic common sense stuff. I tell people to look at the nine rules and pick one that you can’t support. It’s a pretty difficult thing to do.”

He said it’s important that people remember if they are part of a debate to keep their cool and follow these rules even if the person he or she is talking to isn’t. “Even though we might have differences of opinions on issues, we’re all part of the same community.”
Aidyn Laurynz, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Division of Communication graduate student interning with the Community Foundation, said the campaign is intended to have a ripple effect. “It’s not something you talk about in a board room or in a classroom and you leave it there. Each person takes it out with them into their homes and their communities, and in their relationships and it spreads that way,” she said. “It would be great if a couple of years from now there is a shift in the tone of discourse in meetings and classrooms.”

After a Portage County Sheriff’s Department deputy escorted Rocheleau out of the March 24 meeting, Board member Samuel Levin asked O. Phillip Idsvoog, Board chair, if it was normal practice to have a deputy at meetings. Idsvoog said he asks for it only when he anticipates hotbed issues on the agenda, such as the Whiting Dam one, may make some tempers flare.

Eddy said Idsvoog could have had a different tool available should the County Board someday adopt a resolution accepting the initiative. “The initiative itself gives us the opportunity to have the conversation in front of (these people),” she said, noting resolution forms local municipalities can adopt are available on the Community Foundation’s website.

Rothmann agreed. “If the School Board or city were to adopt it, and the posters were up where they meet, the expectation is that those are the rules we follow, and we expect those who participate in our meetings to do the same,” he said. “Does this mean some of the offenders are going to tone down their rhetoric? I don’t think so. But we need to learn to play nice and talk nice.”

More information about the campaign, including information about how people can schedule presentations, is available online at