Brené Brown on civility – and how it relates to creating diverse, equitable and inclusive communities

A few months ago I listened to an interview with Brené Brown on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brown examines how it is that we can find a sense of belonging with others while also staying true to our own beliefs. In many ways, it’s a reflection on what’s needed for healthy communities – online and off.

A very civilised way to explore civility and community.
Image credit: author’s own

In the interview (and in the book), Brown mentions a definition of civility from The Institute for Civility in Government:

Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s is ignored.”

We explored politeness and disrespect – or at least etiquette and how it can misused to silence others – in a previous post, so I particularly appreciate the clarity of this definition and the continuing exploration of the relationship between civility and equity.

Relatedly, it’s perhaps unsurprising that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives – with their goal of healthy, welcoming communities where many backgrounds and voices are welcome – should find an initial home within the community teams or community manager roles of organisations. For example, the work I’ve been doing on the NSF INCLUDES project (a flagship diversity program in the US) is an internal partnership between the education department and the community team where I work. It’s a natural fit because thinking about belonging and how we support positive behaviour is a large part of the community management role.

However, the bit that I’m finding increasingly interesting is the part of the definition of civility that states that it .”..is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements.”  This emphasises not just the expectations community members should have about how their content may be moderated by the group admins – but that in healthy dialogue everyone should be moderating their own actions, especially when faced with topics that may feel contentious.

Community managers can burnout because we sometimes become the emotional sponges for the bad behaviour of others – stepping in to help emotionally regulate others while needing to regulate our own emotions at the same time. Conflict resolution training may start to address this for offline teams, but are you – or have you seen others – addressing this challenge in community-building work online?

 

Further reading

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