Two and a half years ago, snowed in at a hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, more than 50 newly elected members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats – gathered in a conference room to discuss their individual goals for their time in Congress.
All of us came from different backgrounds with different experiences, and we definitely had different views on how we should govern. Still, one topic united us. Each of us, despite our unique situations and perspectives, wanted to restore civility to our political discourse. Our constituents had called for it on the campaign trail, and we were determined to make a difference.
After that meeting, I went back to my room and began drafting what we now call the “Commitment to Civility.” This guiding document that started out as a pledge between congressional classmates now has nearly 150 signatures from members all across the spectrum. It is our contract, not only with each other but with the American people. It memorializes our commitment to do better, to restore dignity and respect to the offices we hold and to follow the Golden Rule.
But our efforts didn’t stop there. Several months later, my Democratic colleague, Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and I founded the bipartisan Honor and Civility Caucus to provide members opportunities to engage on this issue and build better relationships with their colleagues. One of the products of that effort was our resolution in Congress to designate July 12 each year as the National Day of Civility.
There has been an increasing division in and coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. That vitriol has bred suspicion and hatred and created fractures in the ideals that once held us together.
Over the past two years, we have been encouraged to see our ideas spread across the country, as more elected officials at the state and local levels have been inspired to take similar measures. In my home state of Louisiana, for example, the state legislature and several city councils unanimously agreed to pass their own commitments to civility among lawmakers.
There may never be a more important time for this movement. America remains the freest, most powerful and most prosperous nation in all the world, and yet, we face significant challenges. Among these challenges has been an increasing division in and coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. That vitriol has bred suspicion and hatred and created fractures in the ideals that once held us together.
Just as the sharpening of iron is produced by tension, collision and heat, enduring ideas are created through intense debate and informed dialogue. But it is how we debate that matters. We cannot expect to move forward or win anyone over to our side if we dehumanize the people we speak to. Productivity requires civility.
Friday, on this National Day of Civility, we stand up again to emphasize this principle. We recommit to the idea that America flourishes when we show proper respect to one another and set a higher standard for our children and future generations to follow. While we will always have vehement disagreements on important issues, we can disagree better. We have to. The stability of our society and our form of government depend upon it.