"The Values of Civility in a Democracy" was the topic presented by Dr. Robert Steele at the recent League of Women Voters State Convention. Steele is Director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics as Depauw University. As one of the nation's foremost experts on journalism ethics, Steele regularly advises journalists and media leaders across the country.

Steele began emphasizing "that as important as civility is in our daily lives, in our personal behavior, in our communities, our congress and our global society, there are other values that are just as important in creating a good and just society."

He suggested that "valuing difference" is an essential element of our society that underpins civil behavior. "Rigorous moral engagement" is an essential element of our public interactions if we are to genuinely address complex issues. Also, Steele noted that "an ethic of care" is an essential element in a civil society, stressing that "care" is a cornerstone of relationships and that creating relationships is necessary to advance civility.

What does the word "civility" mean? Beyond dictionary definitions focusing on politeness, decency, and courtesy, Steele suggested "civility" has a more complex quality. If we parse the word "civility" through etymology, we learn that its origin goes back hundreds of years to the concept of "status of a citizen","good citizenship", and "the state of being civilized."

Steele quoted a statement by former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton at a recent public forum. "Civility is an essential lubricant for any kind of human transaction."

We do see examples of that everyday in our interactions with others, though maybe not often enough, when individuals respect the rights and dignity of other people. We may see that civility in moments when an individual takes time to show kindness and care to someone else, the giving of dignity in the wake of very difficult times.

We can, if we work at it Steele said, "find civility within the legislative forums of our land, at state capitals and in our nation's capital." While too often the evil cousin "incivility" trumps civility, there are moments of good and goodness when our elected representatives are respectful of each other - practicing civility - even when there are huge ideological differences. Sadly, all too often political party protectionism and blind allegiance to one's own tribe deter the good intentions of some and destroy the chance for substantive and sustainable civility.

Going beyond the realm of politics to explore the concepts of civility - and incivility - the public is impacted by the role of the media in our society-journalism, movies, music, and prime time television. Also, so many are influenced by the digital arena from the internet content to social networks...Twitter to Facebook. There can be the considerable danger and dire consequences that occur when individuals behave badly....when there is not only incivility, but also terrible judgment and even criminal behavior.

Steele served as consultant to help NPR (National Public Radio) rewrite a NPR News Code of ethics with a guiding principle of "respect."

Everyone affected by our journalism deserves to be treated with decency and compassion. We are civil in our actions and words, avoiding arrogance and hubris. We listen to others. When we ask tough questions, we do so to seek answers -- not confrontations. We are sensitive to differences in attitudes and culture. We minimize undue harm and take special care with those who are vulnerable or suffering...

The NPR guidelines further includes this commandment using the word "civil." STRIKE A CIVIL TONE IN ALL YOUR JOURNALISTIC INTERACTIONS.

Steele urged all of us to seek to strike a civil tone in our written and verbal interactions with individuals, members of organizations and public bodies!

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontco.org, or send a message to PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933