Beyond Civility

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Civility seems like a minimum standard or a fallback position, certainly not a desired end. We expect so much more from ethical leaders.

Without civility, communication is chaotic and difficult (if not impossible). Civility adds choosing words more carefully and avoiding blaming and attacking others. When I think about people “being civil” I get a picture of people who don’t like each other very much struggling to maintain their composure.

The origin of the word and its uses are interesting.

“The word civil has about twelve different meanings; it is applied to all manner of objects, which are perfectly disparate. As opposed to criminal, it means all law not criminal. As opposed to ecclesiastical, it means all law not ecclesiastical: as opposed to military, it means all law not military, and so on.” [John Austin, “Lectures on Jurisprudence,” 1873]

Extrapolating on this definition, perhaps civil interpersonal behavior is “all behavior not criminal.” I advocate Civility, but not as an ideal. Just as law is the minimum standard of acceptable individual behavior in a society (below which you are punished) civility seems to be the minimum standard of interpersonal behavior (so as not to get in trouble with the law). Use these posts to learn about the nuances of civility as an ethical issue.

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Civility and Openness to Learning

The Questions We Have in Common





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©2019 Leading in Context LLC

5 Things I Learned From a 6th Grade Bully

By Linda Fisher Thornton

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Most of the people I know were bullied at some point in their lives. As I look back on dealing with a 6th grade bully, I realize that I learned some things from that difficult time. Today I share that story along with resources for bullying prevention. 

My bully repeatedly taunted me. My bully was bigger and taller than I was. My bully was mean. My bully was always there and always looking for a fight. 

I took the “ignore and walk away” approach for a very long time and that only seemed to escalate the bullying. Then an “incident” happened on the playground. On this memorable day she was particularly agitated and lunged at me. The worst case scenario I had feared was actually happening. I stood as tall as I could, closed my eyes and put both hands out in front of me signaling and forcefully yelling “STOP!” She was so startled she lost her balance and sat down hard on the blacktop, and her glasses flew off and broke. 

We were both called to the principal’s office. This was the first time I had ever potentially been “in trouble” and I was sure she had told the principal that I had hit her and broken her glasses, but that wasn’t the truth. I took a deep breath. I thought about the many times I had had positive interactions with the principal. I somehow found the courage to speak. I told him the truth about what happened that day and all the days before when she had bullied me and I was believed. Here are some of the things I now realize looking back on that experience: 

  1. Reputation is everything – when you are trustworthy and honest every day, people will believe you when you most need them to. 
  2. Trust is cumulative – it takes many months and years to build a high trust relationship, but that high trust relationship will help you get through even the most challenging circumstances with grace. 
  3. Aggression and violence don’t solve problems – lashing out at others may seem like a solution, but it isn’t a healthy one. Aggression and violence make problems worse.
  4. Bullies are often hurting inside – it’s easy to forget that bullies may be victims themselves.
  5. Leaders need to create a safe space – with active prevention where bullying is noticed and quickly stopped. 

I still remember that bully’s name, though I won’t share it here. Bullying and other forms of intimidation have lasting effects. We need to do much more to prevent them in our schools and workplaces. We need to be talking about appropriate boundaries of behavior in clear terms

Bullying is damaging by itself but we also need to realize that “bullies are more likely than others to engage in violent criminal behavior” ( We need a prevention strategy, not just a crisis response strategy. We need to stop negative interpersonal behaviors before they escalate. 


BBC Capital, Taking on a Workplace Bully by Chana R Schoenberger

UNESCO School Violence and Bullying: Global Report

UNESCO: Let’s Decide How to Measure School Violence





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©2018 Leading in Context LLC



Civility and Openness to Learning


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Author’s Note: In a previous post, Civility is an Ethical Issue, I explained why civility is an ethical issue. In this post I’ll explore the connection between civility and openness to learning.

Moving From Tolerance to Civility 

It seems that “civility” has come to mean something closer to the word “tolerance” in everyday conversation. Civil behavior now seems to imply an aloof stance that doesn’t step directly on anyone’s toes. But that is not nearly enough. According to W. Jason Wallace, we should be “moral agents” who “share moral relationships.”

The 21st century debate over civility, whether involving politics, religion, economics, or education, will have to confront the difficult problem of what it means to be a moral agent who shares moral relationships.  To this end, shallow conceptions of civility as manners or civility as tolerance must deepen to include civility as the cultivation of virtuous habit and the right ordering of human goods.

W. Jason Wallace, Ph.D., Samford University,  Civility: What Does Civility Mean in the 21st Century Debate?, Alabama Humanities Review

Listen to Learn

How do we build moral relationships? One way that we do that successfully is to be open to the ideas of others, and to other world views. When we disagree with someone, it is responsible to listen to them, and to see what we can learn from their perspective. To be ready to listen and learn, we must acknowledge that we do not have all of the answers. Acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers helps us remember that other people’s ideas may be just as important as our own.

Ideally, we listen eagerly to other people’s points of view. At minimum, we need to show respect when we disagree. George Washington penned a list of Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation sometime before he turned 16 years old.  Number one on his list was:

“Every Action Done in Company, Ought to be With Some Sign of Respect, to Those That are Present.”

Washington, George. Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette. Williamsburg, VA: Beaver Press, 1971.

Admitting We Don’t Have All Of The Answers

Why is it that we disagree so strongly? Have we tried to understand their position fully? Have we remembered to be respectful and open to learning? Have we considered why they have that viewpoint? Have we thought about how their life experiences differ from ours?

When we are not open to learning, we can easily misinterpret another perspective that does not match our own as a threat. That perspective that we are actively arguing against may in fact reflect a more current, more advanced, or more ethical perspective than ours.

Failing to acknowledge that there are other perspectives on an issue (and that the people who hold them have a right to their views as much as we do) shows a lack of respect, and a lack of awareness about:

  • Individuality
  • Complexity
  • Innovation
  • Learning, and
  • Collaboration

There are Multiple Perspectives on Every Issue

Responsible leaders acknowledge that there are multiple perspectives. They wrestle with complex issues. They know that any one person having all of the answers is impossible. They know that behaving in a civil and respectful way is considered part of our human responsibility.

As moral leaders who are building moral relationships, we must: step back far enough to realize the limitations of our own knowledge; commit to understanding other perspectives that go against our own views; encourage civility and respect; and stay open to lifelong learning.


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Reflections on Respecting Differences

Quotations About the Importance of Respecting Differences

I hope that you enjoy this collection of quotes about respecting differences. Notice how many different compelling reasons for respecting differences are included – some from unexpected sources!

Toward no crime have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief.                                                                                                                                                                     James Russell Lowell  

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
Mahatma Gandhi  
People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.
Linda Ellerbee
If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.
John F. Kennedy  
For too long, we have focused on our differences – in our politics and backgrounds, in our race and beliefs – rather than cherishing the unity and pride that binds us together.
Bob Riley
Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Barry Goldwater
More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginning of all wars – yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.
John F. Kennedy  
I believe that we are here for each other, not against each other. Everything comes from an understanding that you are a gift in my life – whoever you are, whatever our differences.
John Denver
Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.
J. K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

“Respectful Workplaces” Video

New Video Explains the Importance of Respect in the Workplace

Today’s post features a video for leaders that is currently available at no cost in an effort to educate leaders about the importance of building respectful workplaces.

And Highlights Recent Research About Ethical Leadership 

“The Evolving Leadership Context: Respectful Workplaces”  is a 5-minute leadership training video that ” explains how the latest research raises the stakes for leaders and changes how we think about respect in the workplace.”

Just released on November 4, 2011, the video is a simple one with a powerful message. Here are excerpts from the November 4 Press Release:

“The Evolving Leadership Context: Respectful Workplaces” Video Released

Richmond, Virginia—November 4, 2011  New Video Illustrates the Importance of “Respectful Workplace Behavior”

As a companion to the Graphic “Ethical Interpersonal Behavior” Leading in Context LLC has released a new leadership training video that explains how the latest research raises the stakes for leaders and changes how we think about respect in the workplace.

The video walks leaders through how the context for leadership is changing and what we now know from  research about  the importance of building a respectful workplace. Human Resource Managers, Chief Learning Officers and CEOs will find that this information is compelling and will want their leaders to be aware of it.

“It just might change how you think about leadership”

To download the video, visit  the Leading in Context Digital Store at

How to Use This Video

This 5-minute video has discussion questions at the end and is designed to be used with leader groups of all kinds – in classes, in leadership training, in meetings, at planning retreats, etc.

How to Provide Feedback

Post your comments to let me know how you like this Leading in Context™ Publication, and to let me know what other “grey areas” of ethical leadership you would like to hear more about.

Please let me know how this video has been useful to you in educating leaders, starting discussions about respect at work, and building respectful cultures.


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses 
© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 

Ways That Leading in Context™ Publications Meet Your Needs:

“I want to engage leaders and challenge them to think in news ways about responsible behavior.”

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