By Col. Stephen M. Bloomer, USA, Retired
“Be the person that others will look for your daily posts because they know you will encourage them. Be the positive one and help others to have a great day, and you will find that not only will they like you, but you will like you too.” John Patrick Hickey
During my years of service as an army combat engineer officer and as a member of the all-volunteer military force of the United States, I was fascinated by both the art and science of leadership. Military historian Roger Nye once wrote that “leadership is not defined by an individual’s position or rank, but rather confirmed when those that one is charged to lead choose to follow.” The wonderful beauty in realizing this reality is that leaders can then help elevate others while simultaneously accomplishing the mission. Formal and informal leaders, some defined by position and others who are not, demonstrate certain characteristics that influence others in a positive way. Leaders display an uncommon commitment to the cause, other team members, customers, and partners. They serve other members of their organization and their communities selflessly, with humility, empathy, wisdom, and kindness.
At this point, you may be wondering why my opening paragraph in this post about civility is all about leadership. I hope that by starting with leadership I can lay out the argument that a well-functioning civil society needs, no requires, sound leadership, so others can experience a good example that can be emulated, replicated, and seen as a source for positive change.
My argument is meant to promote the merits of civility during these difficult times. I would suggest that civility within a community can itself establish positive conditions for change, mutual support, and the greater good. It is often assumed that an argument is fueled by emotion, even anger. Although that can sometimes be the case, an argument during civil discussion is simply an opposing view, and should be seen as a starting point, instead of a hard stop.
In modern times, there are numerous examples where civility won the day and exposed the roadmap to better times. For example, the market crash of 1929, caused by fears of excessive market speculation by the United States Federal Reserve, caused tremendous upheaval in our society, but calmer heads prevailed. With civility and sound leadership across many sectors of society, and a stronger economy, our people experienced a greater appreciation for place, an increased sense of community—neighbors looking out for neighbors, and tremendous opportunity. The reciprocity achieved out of such a negative far-reaching event sowed the way towards ever greater achievement as a society.
During these challenging times, it is civility that can energize collective innovation and initiative. If only we, as one people, forego antagonizing those with differing views through social media posts, the messaging on our clothes, and threatening actions. We can and should use our arguments to promote better understanding and perhaps better solutions to the challenges we all face.
How can fraternity help us bridge the gap between where we are and where we are heading? Fraternity establishes a baseline for accepted norms, collective values, mutual support, and friendship. In this sense, individual members commit themselves to a code of conduct and the accountability that comes from belonging to a fraternal order.
During the conduct of fraternity business, it is essential that time be allowed for all viewpoints to be shared, so the best possible outcomes can be realized. At the beginning of meetings conducted by one of the groups I belong to, and I will paraphrase here, it is said, “let not our petty grievances disrupt our discussions and our good work.” It’s a solemn reminder that we all have biases, preferences, and beliefs shaped by our upbringing, environment, opportunities, and life’s journey, but at the same time, if we are to imagine what is new and possible, we must embrace civility as a responsibility of all.
For most of us, 2020 has been a year unlike most others. We have dealt with a series of events outside of our control, and in some cases, the second and third order effects of those events. The year is not yet over, but as we enter the fourth quarter, having pulled through the first two-thirds of the year together, it is becoming ever more evident that together we will navigate the remainder of a pandemic, a recession, and a national election. Many of the solutions we discover along the way can make us stronger, more resilient, wiser, and hopefully a little more humble and open to new ideas.