Uncivility is a Symptom Not a Cause

by Dr. David Gruder

Over the course of only a handful of days…

  • South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s health care reform address to Congress by shouting "You lie!"
  • Professional tennis star Serena Williams unleashed an expletive-laced tirade against a line judge during a tennis match, in which she threatened her with bodily harm.
  • Rapper Kanye West, rushed the stage at Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards and interrupted Taylor Swift as she was thanking the audience for her best female video award so he could make his own remarks. Even juicier, the  President of the United States later called Kayne West a jackass for his behavior.

After Serena Williams’ vitriolic outburst lost her the US Open semi-final match and cost her a $10,500 fine, CBS tennis commentator Mary Carillo said, "It’s not OK to say, ‘That’s just the way society is today,’ and leave it at that."

A USA Today article entitled "What Happened to Civility" seems to frame this behavior as the indulgences of the rich, famous and influential. From where I sit, nothing could be further from the truth. Extreme lack of civility has become a full-blown stage six pandemic, spreading to all fifty states in the United States plus the nation’s capitol, the Distict of Columbia (Washington D.C.). While there are many examples of this highly virulent and toxic pandemic, we need look no further for one than some citizens’ behaviors during August’s health reform Town Hall meetings.

What is fueling this dramatic rise in the frequency and severity of this uncivility? I see a two-layered answer.

On the more obvious first layer, uncivility can rightly be seen as a symptom of people feeling as though they don’t have impact. But, I believe that the more hidden second layer is much juicier, and more hopeful at the same time.

The hidden reason I see behind why so many people feeling like they have no impact is this: even if they don’t have words to name this, more and more people are finally starting to sense that compromise is incapable of getting us where we want to go; that compromise can never generate the sustainable solutions we so desperately need. In other words, I am proposing that hidden-but-wondrous reason so many people have become so angry and uncivil is because we as a society are at last attempting to evolve beyond our dysfunctional over-reliance on compromise as a first-choice problem-solving strategy.

But, here’s the catch. The vast majority of people — both leaders and everyday citizens — don’t know how to implement the only problem-solving strategy that is superior to compromise. So, when they reject compromise what do they default to instead? The only other alternative to compromise most people know:. And do you know what that is? Coercion!

Here’s a dirty little secret about lack of civility: it is a form of coercion. Uncivility is an attempt to force our will onto others. It no longer matters whether we apologize afterward, because far too these apologies are merely forms of political correctness; they have nothing to do with the uncivil person changing their behavior or expanding their vision! What we all must realize is that repeatedly indulging in uncivil outbursts and then apologizing afterward means nothing unless the apology is followed by a change in behavior and an expanded vision of the issues.

What is the problem-solving alternative that is superior to both compromise and coercion? What is our rebellion, in the form of uncivil coercion, against the insufficiencies of compromise trying to propel us toward? Synergy, that’s what.

What is synergy? Think of synergy as "jigsaw puzzle problem-solving." Synergy approaches problem-solving like assembling a jigsaw puzzle when you don’t know beforehand what the picture will look like when you’re done. Synergy requires humility because no one person or group accurately sees the big picture all by themselves. Synergy requires these two important skills:

  1. Discovering Core Intentions: These are the deeper purposes and values beneath the positions we take or solutions we propose. Discovering core intentions is like turning upside down jigsaw pieces right-side up because discovering your own and other people’s core intentions requires looking beneath surface positions to discover what people really want underneath those positions. Discovering core intentions opens the door to a far wider and more useful range of potential solutions than can emerge when we are trying to engineer compromises between rigid surface positions.
  2. Connecting the Dots Between Core Intentions: This is like attaching jigsaw pieces to one another to discover the picture they create when the puzzle is fully assembled. As with a group of people assembling a jigsaw puzzle, each person tends to focus on one part of the puzzle while others focus on other parts. Only when we join together to connect all of the jigsaw pieces can complete picture emerge for all of us to see. Combining everyone’s core intentions in a shared commitment to serve the common good enables an accurate picture to emerge. Sustainable solutions can be constructed only after a complete picture has been assembled. This is why synergy is the only problem-solving strategy capable of creating sustainable solutions. Not compromise, and certainly not coercion.

For more about synergy, click on this link to the problem-solving section of my public service project, the Integrity Stimulus Plan: www.TheNewIQ.com/problem-solving-integrity

It is high time that we see uncivility for what it really is: a wakeup call attempting to alert us to the crumbling of compromise as a first choice problem-solving strategy. Coercion is not meant to be its replacement, however. Synergy is supposed to replace compromise and coercion as our new first-choice problem-solving strategy.

What is the most fundamental building block for becoming proficient with synergy-centered problem-solving? The answer might surprise you: healthy personal boundaries. This is because at the heart of each of our boundaries is something called a "Core Intention." The most important key to true collaboration between people and groups is appreciating and honoring the core intentions of everyone involved. Doing this is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. It is a nitty-gritty step-by-step practice that anyone can master. This practice is one of the most important keys to living life at the intersection of self-integrity, relationship integrity and societal integrity.

You can learn a simple four step process for mastering health boundaries, clarifying your core intentions, and synergizing your intentions with other people’s, through my NICE™ Boundaries self-guided home study course. Download the digital version and get started right away.

If you want an even more complete road-tested master plan for creating synergy-centered solutions that promote personal happiness, loving relationships, business success, and social responsibility, read my five-award-winning book for today’s New Silent Majority: The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships & Our World.


* For a description of the sick coercion recipe that has been fueling today’s crazy discourse, read this IntegrityWatch Blog post: www.thenewiq.com/integritywatch-blog/sick-recipe-responsible-todays-crazy-public-discourse

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