Return to Civility

So much has changed in the last twenty years. Recently I was planning a trip and looking at how much things cost; the flight, hotel, transportation, and it made me try to remember how to plan a trip before the internet, and I hardly could remember. If you were around 20 years ago, things in your everyday life and work were so different than it is now. People thought differently than now too.

Why is this important?

How you think affects how you show up in life, what you do, your morals, and what you say.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Lately, if you have been taking time to think and reflect on society, you have likely been having deep conversations with your spouse, friends, or close relatives. Whether we find ourselves discussing the tremendous changes in the weather, the price of gas and food, what’s happening to our children in the schools, women’s rights, where to go on vacation during all these global problems, or perhaps deciding to watch television or not. During discussions, you will likely feel a sense of friction within; conversations that used to be direct and easy to navigate have become complex. Voicing your genuine opinion can seem scary when it comes to almost any topic now since everyone’s emotions run high.

What can we do to navigate this new reality of walking on eggshells?

How can we express ourselves without offending the spirits of others?

How do we have a conversation these days?

To find out how to recultivate the lost art of conversation, I reached out to Inez Odom. She is the Strategic Initiatives and Research Director at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace in San Diego, California. For the purposes of this discussion, she is the founder of Miss Inez’s School of Home Training, where she has created a card game which is the blueprint for how we cultivate and resurrect warmth, thoughtfulness, kindness, joy, laughter, and fun in our human interactions and conversations. The game’s name is inspired by Miss Inez’s childhood. When a child misbehaved in public, adults would turn their heads, look at that child, click their tongues and say, “that child must not have any home training.”

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

My Interview with Inez Odom

What Does The Art of Conversation Mean?

“When we think about a conversation, we can almost break it out into understanding six key elements: a topic, the terms of the vocabulary, and the rules of engagement that we use, the tone of a conversation, what I would call the tangents of a conversation, its intention, and then the outcome. When we decide to have a conversation, it is an art form in that there are specific steps to make it a meaningful exchange.

If we live in a world where even the topic feels overwhelming, engaging in a meaningful conversation can be challenging. Depending on the topic, I may have a different view of a term I’m using than you. So, it’s vital that we unpack the words we’re using and have a rich vocabulary to express ourselves.

A vital aspect of a conversation is the tone. We all know there are ways to say something that can be kindly received or not kindly received, depending on the tone of voice we’re using.

When we have a conversation, we know it will give rise to other ideas and thoughts. With a conversation, you must think about the intention. Is it my intention to change their mind? Is it my intention to clarify? Is it my intention to persuade? Is it my intention to ultimately hold myself open so that they can perhaps help me better understand a situation?

The last piece of any good conversation is the outcome, the result of having had the conversation. What do I want to do differently? How do I want to show up differently? What will my “thought life’’ look like as a result of having engaged in this conversation?

Civility is courtesy and politeness. How do we engage in a way that welcomes courtesy and politeness as we are in dialogue with one another? Technology is now set up so that we can almost only listen to people who will provide us with confirmation bias. If I have a particular set of ideologies, I can surround myself with programming and information that will confirm what I think rather than necessarily challenge what I believe.”

What Role Do Parents Play In Children’s Lives When It Comes To Social Gratitude?

“When I think of social gratitude, I think about the sense of being appreciative of what you have. A parent’s role is providing a context for their children to be grateful. Everyone’s situation is relative to them. Even if I am a parent of a family experiencing homelessness, how do we still appreciate the world around us or have a sense of gratitude? Could it be that we’re grateful that we’re together, that we woke up this morning, or that we can go to a shelter and get a meal?

To a family where they may possess many material things, how do you help the children in that family understand they should be grateful? If your family is privileged enough to have a hot meal on the table, by naming it and expressing gratitude, you help your children not to take the blessings of this life for granted. It’s making sure that you are talking to your children about gratitude, that you’re modeling gratitude. It’s about how you will use your sense of gratitude to either share it or help others.

Photo by Ramin Talebi on Unsplash

It’s understanding the moral responsibility of being in the human family and recognizing that we are all interconnected. It’s having an awareness that a global virus swept the world and no one went unscathed. Failing to acknowledge our interconnectedness is a mistake. Modeling for your child what it is to be curious about the world around you and to be a person who shows up well is probably the most powerful thing you can do to express social gratitude.”

How Can We “Agree To Disagree” With Dignity In Society?

“Anger hurts and is a painful emotion with which to engage. If you’re in a conversation with someone who is angry, probably the first thing to figure out is what is the source of that anger? Are they upset about the topic? Are they angry at you, the individual? What or where is the rage coming from? If the anger comes out of frustration and fear, these are emotions, and we can elect to regulate them.

Is it that they feel hopeless? Do they feel powerless? It’s important to assess what’s going on. Ultimately, you cannot have a conversation unless everyone is prepared to do some amount of listening. That’s another skill that must be cultivated, especially if we’re talking about a very provocative subject. Through discussion and dissection, determine if there’s a way that the people engaged in the conversation can see a solution. Often when we get angry about something, we feel hopeless. We think that there’s no solution. I believe that we’re seeing that, particularly with some of the overwhelming global issues at hand, we must always bring it back to the question, ‘what can I do, as an individual, to impact something that I am upset about or distressed about?’”

The intention of a conversation is an exchange of ideas.

People mistakenly believe that being calm about something means I am dispassionate about the subject. I may be very passionate and have a firm perspective. Still, ultimately if I’m going to shout or if I’m going to speak over someone, the result is dismissive and that isn’t going to achieve anything productive.

We must be ready and learn how to hear someone else’s perspective so that we can regroup and hold ourselves open to changing our perspective.”

According to the article, Changing Morals: We’re More Compassionate Than 100 Years Ago, But More Judgmental Too, one narrative suggests our recent history is one of demoralization. On this view, our societies have become progressively less prudish and judgmental. A contrary narrative implies re-moralization. By this account, our culture is increasingly censorious. More things offend and outrage us, and the growing polarization of political debate reveals excesses of righteousness and self-righteousness.

The article continued by noting that they used culturomics, which tracks changes in cultural beliefs and values, along with looking at the changing patterns of language use over time which may reveal alterations in how people have made sense of their world and themselves. It was found that there has been an increase in individualist values, revealed through decreases in “us” and increases in “me” in the way we use language.

What Happened To Our “Old-Fashioned” Values?

We’ve been storytelling since the dawn of humanity, with the goal of allowing us to live together successfully. Historically, that’s how humanity and human beings have evolved.

In the 1500’s in Europe, there were books written for people to understand how to behave and to speak in different situations. What has caused the disappearance of our “old-fashioned” values is an erosion of empathy.

I was a huge fan of the Show Survivor. I used to love watching it. In many ways, the advent of reality TV created this appetite for developing artificial circumstances and crises in which we can distance ourselves from other people. We can observe the suffering of others vicariously. If you drop your empathy and can look at someone as the “other,” you no longer have to see them as part of your human family. That’s when you start seeing an erosion of values or people’s willingness to care for one another.

We now have taken away even the gates of distribution in terms of content. You used to have only NBC, CBS, and ABC that provided content. We are now flooded with content daily. You are left to your own devices regarding what content you will consume. The amount of energy to sift through what is meaningful and what isn’t is exhausting.

When you’re playing a card game with someone, and you’ve asked them a question, they’re taking a moment to pause, think, and reflect. No one is “swiping left.” You’re not pushing or tapping on a screen. You are in a human moment. You’re making eye contact. You’re looking at them. Simply getting back to a place where we value what we have to say, when we are in conversation with one another is so important.

What Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

“It’s so crucial to look toward history. When we look at non-violent movements, we know that they are inherently noble and right.

We can easily become very overwhelmed by the ills of the world that existed before the pandemic. They’re certainly here now, yet, the pandemic may have exacerbated them. How will you respond and make meaningful decisions a priority in your life? Examine everything from your work life to your spiritual life, to your home life, to your academic life, and ultimately decide what impact you want to have on the world for the better.

How do we show up in any given situation? I had a conversation with a woman we will call Sally. Sally talked about her concern and distress over not having children wearing masks in school and the impact this would have on her own children. Where Sally was living in Texas, many people felt that children shouldn’t be wearing masks. When Sally attended the school committee meeting, someone opposed to the idea of wearing masks walked up to her and deliberately coughed in her face. That’s painful, aggressive, antagonistic, and potentially life-threatening, depending on what the instigator’s COVID status was at the moment. There are various responses that Sally could have had to the aggressor’s actions, but she chose to try to galvanize other people to her perspective in a positive way.

Sally is now choosing to create a series of ongoing, outside social gatherings that would allow those on one side of the masking issue to come together with those on the other side. Simply having a barbecue together to exchange ideas in a way that is not negatively confrontational. It allows each of them to hear one another. By changing the setting and creating a more relaxed environment, Sally is hoping that they can see each other as people rather than “the other.”

To be willing to do something like that is to be an agent for good and a change agent. Sally is trying to tackle something where she knows there will be very polarized feelings. Yet, she is trying to take a positive, healthy strategy.”

What Are The Biggest Consequences We Will Encounter If We Continue Down Our Current Path In Society?

“There’s a fear of thinking deeply because if we think deeply, we’re going to feel deeply. When we feel deeply, we may be hurt deeply. We can’t be afraid to be hurt. There’s a beautiful quote by Khalil Gibran that says “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” We can’t be afraid to engage with one another as human beings. Yes, we’re going to hurt. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes. It shouldn’t be that we avoid the conversation because we don’t know how to have it.

We must give people the tools for compassionate, respectful, caring discourse. Humanity has many wonderful qualities and we see them every day. For every negative post, four thousand acts of kindness are happening that go undocumented, I promise you. We’ve got to be about the business of reconnecting with one another through conversation, laughter, compassion, patience and kindness.”

About Inez Odom

Inez Odom is the Strategic Initiatives and Research Director at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace in San Diego, California. In addition, she is the founder of Miss Inez’s School of Home Training, where she has created the blueprint for how we cultivate and resurrect warmth, thoughtfulness, kindness, joy, laughter, and fun in our human interactions and conversations.

Ms. Odom has developed a card game called Home Training to discuss life and open dialogue in a respective manner today. The game brings the fun of gaming to the art of relationship building. A bit of retro card game fun elevates the spirit, fosters cross-generational engagement, and allows strangers and family members to learn more about one another and themselves. See the Game.

About the Author

Annmarie Hylton-Schaub, Head Marketing Strategist and Content Developer at Project Good Work, a boutique marketing group focused on helping individuals who want to launch social impact projects, charities, and change-making initiatives. The marketing group works to develop branding, marketing strategy, and content to connect clients with the people who believe what they believe so that their project and business can thrive.

If you have a passion for an unserved community, a social justice problem, or want to change minds, contact Project Good Work at ProjectGood.Work to start your project of change today.

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Annmarie Hylton-Schaub

Marketing Strategist and Content Developer focused on organizations and people leading the changing social landscape. More at https://www.projectgood.work/blog