On Civility and Resilient Governance

Article excerpt

As the inaugural article in the Public Administration Quarterly series on "Resilient Governance," this essay argues that one key to creating resilient governance is promoting civility and discouraging incivility. Why start with civility? Many values influence the performance of public servants other than the traditional notions of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, both of which are increasingly stressed in an uncertain economic environment. The challenges to the commonweal resulting from incivility are clear. Frequently this incivility goes unchecked; it then surfaces in the form of violence. Seemingly random acts of violence can endanger any free society. For example:

1. Incivility in politics was brought to the forefront as the nation mourned in the days and weeks after the shooting spree in January 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner that killed 6 and injured 13, including the serious head injury to Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. While this incident occurred in Tucson, it could as easily take place in your hometown next time. The Pima County Sheriff, among others, argued the ideological incivility of campaign posters with a gun sight over Giffords' congressional district was partly to blame, while others stressed inadequacy of mental health services, a source of incivility in public places as well as a serious contributor to political threats (Quinn et al. 2011; Lacey et al. 2011).

2. Incivility in our communities is manifest in bullying (Samson 2009). In a Massachusetts case, 15-year old Phoebe Prince, a recent Irish immigrant to the U.S., took her own life after what has been referred to as "months of merciless and sometimes violent bullying." Nine teenagers were criminally charged in this case (McGreal 2010). There is a good chance that someone in your hometown has done the same thing, yet escaped the international spotlight shown in this instance. The spotlight is international because this type of incivility with corollary suicide is a topic of public concern worldwide (Brunstein et al. 2010; DeMartino et al. 2011).

3. Incivility in the workplace is as rampant as bullying among our youth, and is widespread in public organizations (Vickers 2006). A Zogby International survey report showed that 37% of employees have been bullied in the workplace, while 62% of employers do nothing or make the situation worse by their response when acts of bullying are reported (Workplace Bullying Institute 2008). Employers face this difficulty because behaviors range from minor slights to more sinister acts, or are of ambiguous intent. As with school bullying, it is not necessarily easy to recognize the offender until events escalate.

Incivility--indicated by lack of respect for authority, intolerance, and disconnectedness--consists of a wanton disregard for the collective interest, and exhibits itself in a range of public behaviors both large and small. The phrase "going postal" is well recognized in American culture, but workplace violence did not begin or end at the neighborhood post office. For example, public concerns have swirled around violent events at a smattering of schools and college campuses. Columbine High School (fourteen dead, twenty three wounded on April 20, 1999) and Virginia Tech (thirty three dead, twenty three injured on April 16, 2007) serve as exemplars, yet this is not simply about violent tendencies or poor American gun control laws. Similar incidents took place in the tiny town of Tuusula, Finland (nine killed on November 7, 2007) and Dublane, Scotland (eighteen kindergarteners killed on March 13, 1996). Such violence even entered the peaceful Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, leaving five school children and the gunman dead on October 2, 2006.

Incivility does not need to ensue on such a grand scale to create serious problems. Specifically, "Microinequities are the subtle putdowns, snubs, dismissive gestures, or sarcastic tones that can undercut employee performance and encourage employee turnover" (Cherng and Tate 2007, 1). …