Our current time is one of polarization and divisiveness. The Presidential election has many divided along ideological, racial, political, class and gender lines in a manner marked by vitriol, intolerance and anger. It is from this context that the idea for signs that reduce the temperature of the discourse from disdain to civil dialogue has its genesis. We hope that we can disagree without being disagreeable and – if we learn to listen to each other – we can find common ground that will help our country move forward.

So, the idea sprang from asking the following question: What if appeals to the better angels inside each person living in Harbor Country could call forth more civil, respectful choices we all make as we interact with each other? In the Rotary Four Way Test, which is our guiding mission, we ask: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? These signs – reminding us and inviting us to be kind, respectful and civil – certainly help build better friendships and goodwill; might be beneficial to all; are fair in the sense that the signs are not political, instead they are appeals to public comity; and might help us all see the truth more clearly once the smoke of angry denunciations have cleared away. In all these ways, this simple project is in resonance with the mission of Rotary, and we hope will benefit the public exchange of ideas around Harbor Country. If we actually talk to each other, and listen, instead of past each other, we all win.

For many Harbor Country Rotary Club members, it is difficult to watch passively as neighbors fall out with neighbors, friends stop speaking to each other, and the mature exchange of ideas – long the hallmark of a healthy democracy – become disrespectful and dismissive exchanges. Our club can act and help remind ourselves and our fellow citizens that we are better than this, that we need to act better than this. We can be agents for peace. Our children are watching. What example do we want to set?

So, with approval and funding from the Board of Harbor Country Rotary, we designed the signs online and ordered about 75 yard signs with the simple message: Choose to Be: Respectful, Civil, Kind and have distributed them around Harbor Country with the help of Rotary Club members. We have tried to respectfully ask permission before any sign has been placed.

The response so far has been heartening. Bikers have stopped and applauded, pedestrians and motorists have applauded. Several business owners have asked for signs for their locations. We are thrilled. This Civility Project is not meant to be political in the sense of one party versus another. Instead, it is focused on tempering the discourse between all citizens so we can productively interact with each other for the common good. We hope it helps.

Rotary Club of Harbor Country

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