Civility at top of national discussion, expert tells Oshkosh audience - February 24 2011

OSHKOSH, WI - Author P.M. Forni, Ph.D., is delighted by the fact that dozens of civility initiatives have begun across the country and many more - such as a grassroots effort in Oshkosh - are in the planning stages.

"Civility is at the top of the national agenda for discussion," he told an audience of nearly 150 people here Thursday morning. "From what I've seen in Oshkosh the last 48 hours ? seldom do I see (a civility initiative) as promising as the one you have here."

See photos from Thursday morning's community breakfast.

Forni has been used as an expert resource for New York Times and Washington Post reports and has appeared on "Oprah." His book, "Choosing Civility," has inspired communities, organizations and corporations around the country to rally around civility. He directs the Civility Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and lectures and writes extensively on the civility-ethics-quality of life connection.

He spoke Thursday (Feb. 24, 2011) at a free community breakfast organized by several community leaders, including the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, in an effort to launch the initiative to improve communication by reminding the community of the basic principles of respect that should guide interaction with each other.

The event opened with an official proclamation by Oshkosh Mayor Paul J. Esslinger declaring Thursday as a day of civil discussion in the city.

Civility is tied closely to ethics, quality of life and violence within a community, according to Forni.

"We ought to treat other as ends in themselves rather than means to be manipulated. We ought not to use others," Forni instructed the audience.

He pointed to the instance of saving a child from drowning as how people live ethically. But the chance to be a hero does not happen in every day life. Forni, with a touch of humor, offered some practical suggestions on how to live ethically:
  • By not taking someone else's parking spot at the grocery store;
  • By allowing other motorists to merge into traffic;
  • By not taking a bite of someone else's lunch in the work refrigerator and then putting it back.

"In these ways we are civil, but we are also ethical," he said.

More than 1 million acts of physical violence occur each year in American workplaces, a figure that has held steady over the last six to seven years, according to Forni.

Violent acts have their origin in acts of disrespect and rudeness, key components of incivility.

"By keeping levels of civility high, we keep the instances of violence down," Forni said.

And as well, civility - social skills - allow a community to maintain a higher quality of life as people interact with their circles of friends and family that are so needed to survive.

Forni's presentation is part of two days of workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh about civility, a greater need for it and respectful dialogue in campus classrooms and the community. Leaders from UW System campuses throughout Wisconsin, UW Board of Regents members and students are participating in the workshop.

Next month, a series of three meetings have been scheduled to provide an opportunity for people to meet, talk and determine how to organize the civility initiative:
  • 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 9, 2011, Oshkosh Public Library (lower level meeting room)
  • 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, 2011, Oshkosh Public Library (lower level meeting room)
  • 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 4, 2011, Oshkosh Public Library (lower level meeting room)

Learn more about the Oshkosh Civility Project at www.OshkoshCivilityProject.org.

The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization created by and for the people of Winnebago County, Waushara County, Green Lake County and Ripon. Through charitable giving, the Community Foundation strives to make our communities thrive. For more information, please call 920-426-3993.


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