The Capitol Club got a lesson in civility from Utah Supreme Court Justice, Thomas Lee. Today’s Capitol Club meeting was hosted by Ray Quinney & Nebeker.
Justice Lee shared his feelings on the importance of civility in public debate, in government and in law.
Justice Lee pointed out failures to maintain civility on both sides of the political isle. He encouraged Capitol Club members to adopt a habit of civility in their professional lives.
Justice Lee says there are three root causes of our civility problem:
1. Anatomical or chemical
He says we are wired to respond to acts we perceive as threats or attacks with incivility. ”We are committed to civility in the cool comfort of our living room but we lose that commitment in the heat of the dispute.”
2. Civility does not mean concession
Civility is pushed on us as something we must embrace at the expense of good debate. Justice Lee says that is civility in a caricature. Acting in a civil manner does not prohibit intelligent, passionate debate.
3. The affect of incivility on the listener
Since becoming a judge, Justice Lee says he has noticed how the bombastic, Rambo-like arguments from many lawyers, hurt their ability to be an effective advocate. He says the message gets lost because the listener begins to wonder why it is being presented in such an aggressive manner.
Having identified the three roots, Justice Lee pointed out remedies to the problem. He says we need to educate advocates that it is misguided to believe the argument is better when you use inflammatory language. He also says we need to debunk the misconception of civility—it is better to use civil tones and tactics than to simply attack. Disagreements can be debated on merit, not on volume.
He says we need to surround ourselves with models of civility. Everyone has these people in the workplace: those who will not be taken off point, never engaging in name calling, never questioning motives.
“If we consciously seek to pattern ourselves after their behavior, we can change the way we react. We can gradually move ourselves in the right direction.”