Attached is a PDF of the Young Foundation's publication "Civility Lost and Found" which might be of interest to this group. What do we know about civility? Has it in fact improved or worsened? Can it be cultivated or promoted? Is it always a good thing? Who deserves blame – or credit?
GeoffMulgan chairs Carnegie's Commission of inquiry into civil society our sister programme based in london. I know that civility is a particular concern of geoffs!
I will ask Lenka for her thoughts about this
At one level, it's a fascinating and well written booklet, bringing together some good thinking that has got me thinking – exactly as it was supposed to….
I like the way in which civility is addressed from multiple perspectives - that points to the co-evolving psychology, culture and social structures that generate the idea of 'civility' in some cultures at some times.
It reminded me of Martin Buber’s work (‘I – thou’) and his powerful emphasis on what it takes to really establish quality in relationships being a moment-by-moment awareness of the other person as a living, breathing being rather than an object…. (well, that’s mis-quoting Buber I’m sure and putting it way too simply…)
I liked the nod too towards mindfulness practice from other cultural traditions like Buddhism – I have got so much from my experiments with meditation and learning about Buddhist psychology (for example through Ken Wilber’s work) – and I try to live according to this path when I remember there’s a ‘bigger me’ capable of such things…
I felt that there were a few things missing though too – for example, insights from evolutionary complexity thinking could really add something to our understanding of the core dynamics of the relationship between social restraint and open-ness. Also, I thought their framework for civility was a bit clunky – I still go back to Ken Wilber's Integral philosophy as a great starting point for organising thinking as it integrates evolutionary development so well with the personal, social and structural elements of issues like this.
But, stepping out of the content, overall I'm curious about the Young foundation's strategic choice to reframe 'civility' just now, and the way in which they're going about doing so. It seems to me that this is a very 'chattering classes' kind of project - the tone, language and orientation of the leaflet is very much of the great and good and knowledgeable talking together. No doubt there’s a desire to influence a future incoming government. However, because of this, it doesn't really feel very fresh or connected with a movement for community action in the face of (for example) social breakdown, climate, etc.. Where is the analysis about how the radical changes of the future will provoke huge challenges to building loving relationships in community - which, for my money, is where pamphlet is pointing but doesn’t quite have the courage to spell out.
Of course, there are huge connections in the very grounded work that many of the co-authors are undoubtedly doing (would have been good to have actually learned a bit more about these real-life stories of working on ‘civility’ beyond the Young Foundations' own schools project). Overall I worry that framing a conversation about civility in this way may, ironically, take some focus and energy from where these issues are already being addressed. More Big Lunches, less English-centricness (or at least explicitly recognising this - a Scots author might have chosen to start from Burns' poem a man's a man....). Final point in what’s turning into an unforeseen rant is that rather than a academic-style literature review and interviews, how about an approach to researching this topic that might genuinely include the community people who the report is talking about?! In other words…. action research…
Anyway, this will be a great conversation to continue with Saffron at Sense of Place...
I agree with pretty much all your comments there. I wonder if civility itself is something that simply happens as the result of people being more engaged with their immediate community (made overt, shared and validated through cultural activity), and is not something that requires the sort of conversation that is being framed in this document. Civility is perhaps a symptom of a community, not a function, and to focus on it is to miss the underlying cause. Or is it?