by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL
Building the St. Louis Region’s tomorrow, through inclusive engagement, unbiased communication, and focused action.
- Mission Statement of Construction Forum STL
Sunday night, my wife and I finished binge-watching all five seasons of the Netflix drama House of Cards. Like many viewers before us we were blown away by the uncanny way in which Frank and Claire Underwood and the rest of their Beltway denizens mirror what we currently see unfolding before us. It's even more unsettling when one considers that the series began filming in 2013.
Since the "H of C" theme music had been reverberating in my head for several weeks, I was a little bit taken aback (OK, bemused) to hear it playing at our church, The Journey Tower Grove, a couple of Sundays ago. As part of a summer sermon series "The Truth Unraveled", Lead Pastor Jeremy Bedenbaugh was tackling, with great trepidation, "Divided Nation: Politics in America". Jeremy handled the topic with his usual self-deprecating humor, but also with the respect and concern that it demands.
"You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
Anne Lamott, American novelist and non-fiction writer
Jeremy drew on examples from Proverbs in the Old Testament to present the Christian view of justice and respect for all. (Click here to download a PowerPoint from his presentation.) He leavened his remarks with humor, such as the quote from Anne Lamott, shown above, all the while speaking wisdom. My favorites were his advice not to post anything to the "comments" section that you wouldn't say sitting across from that person and to, "Save the Hitler comparison for later."
In the four years since the Forum was founded, we have witnessed a number of ad hominem diatribes. Most recently, few weeks ago, in moderating the comment section of ConstructForSTL.org we deleted an anti-Semitic attack on an individual who was quoted in one of our staff-written articles.
When we spent a year talking about what the Forum would look like, prior to its launch in November of 2013, co-founder Joe Blanner and I agreed that its governing principle would be civility. When we wrote the Strategic Vision Plan for the Forum in 2015, we drafted the mission statement quoted at the top of this article. It speaks to, "inclusive engagement, unbiased communication, and focused action." There is no mention of skewering those who disagree with you.
Rules of Civility
At Mount Vernon, our first president's home in Fairfax County, VA, there is a schoolboy penmanship exercise that George Washington completed. The 16-year-old future father of our country copied out 110 Rules of Civility. Some of them, such as not spitting in the fire or "talk not with meat in your mouth," are pretty obvious (and funny). Number one in the list of 110 rings true in today's political environment:
"Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present."
110 Rules of Civility
When we launched the Forum we wrote a set of FAQ answers that are still posted on our website:
"Construction Forum STL was created to be a “room without walls” where the entire industry could participate in building relationships and working on issues large and small... We believe that when the construction community comes together to network, discuss ideas, and share information we are all better for it... The only “rules” governing where Construction Forum STL goes are inclusion of all individuals and ideas and civility in discussion."
A Short Course on Respect
Civility and respect are concepts that pervade all positive approaches to change in society. This is a truth that cuts across beliefs of all stripes.
Our family was out in California and Nevada last month and I got to do some reading: I finished three books out there: Al Franken: Giant of the Senate; On Fire: The Seven Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life (by St. Louisan John O'Leary) and Hillbilly Elegy. On returning, I finished Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom. As eclectic (OK… all over the map) as that list sounds, each of the four books focuses in its own way on positive change, opportunity, equality and the rights of individuals, and respect for one another’s viewpoints.
It's the Principle That Counts
If you research the quote that's often attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," you'll find that there's strong evidence that Voltaire never said it. And guess what... it DOESN'T MATTER who said it, or if anybody said it. The sentiment still holds true.
Here in the St. Louis region there is disagreement on regional unification, crime, taxes and many other issues. But if we are to come to any common ground it must start with understanding and respecting the views of those with whom we disagree. Civility toward and justice for all should be where we begin.