From the Chamber Chief: August 2014
Last week our Chamber’s Member Services Director, Whitney
Watts, and I attended the American Chamber of Commerce
Executives national conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was ACCE’s
annual convention year and they outdid themselves with
outstanding speakers, topics, and networking occasions (yes, we
need to network, too!). We saw the Reds play the Red Sox and we
ate the original skyline (“Cincinnati”) chili. Our convention was
projected to stimulate the local economy to the tune of more
than $650k. Impressive!
We signed up for a myriad of workshops with topics ranging from “Healthy Workforce, Healthy
Economy;” “Tapping the Entrepreneurial Culture;” and “High Impact Marketing on a Small
Budget.” I also decided to sit in on a workshop called “Civility Now.” The description read: “In a
hyper-partisan political environment, courtesy evaporates quickly and solving community
problems can be daunting. But civility survives, especially when chamber professionals become
models for effective discourse, positive debate, negotiation, and keep listening skills.” The
session was led by Lindy Broderick, Executive Vice President of the Greater Shreveport
Turns out, there’s a movement afoot in various parts of the Unites States that’s called Speak
your Peace - The Civility Project. Started at the Duluth, MN Community Foundation, the Project
notes we – the people who make up our communities - are more alike than we are different.
By elevating our level of communication and avoiding personal attacks, we can avoid unhealthy
debate and help maintain our sense of community. This atmosphere encourages increased civic
participation, strong engagement, and a healthy community. It’s not what we say, but how we
say it. By harnessing our passion about issues toward useful ends, we can communicate in a
more civil, productive way. Simply put, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
It might sound “touchy-feely”, but as I listened to examples of local government officials being
verbally attacked both at meetings and as they went about their daily lives in their
communities; as I heard about a service club member who threw a chair and then a drink at
another member during a club activity; and frankly as I’ve watched the horrifying community
unrest that is still unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, it occurred to me that there might just be
something to this presentation.
I started thinking about our community’s many challenges. We continue to feel the fallout of
the recession, job losses and funding changes driven largely by sequestration and Virginia’s
dependence on the federal government. At the Chamber, we always view challenges as
opportunities. Change, while frightening at times, is inevitable. How we go about affecting
that change and how successful we are in reshaping our community will be determined first
and foremost by the words we use. We get stuck behind labels: Republican; Democrat; Tea-
Party; liberal; tree-hugger; capitalist; rich; poor; stupid; smart…you get the picture.
Here’s what we really are: we are members of the same community, and by and large we want
the same things: a great place to live, work, and play. In order for us to turn the challenges we
face as a community into opportunities, we need to talk with each other, not at each other.
Why can’t we have local government meetings at all levels without citizens ignoring the rules
and yelling out angrily at the officials tasked with making the hard decisions? Why can’t we
attend a school function without audience members “whooping and hollering” every time their
kid is recognized, to the detriment of the overall function? Often the cheering drowns out the
next soloist. It’s incredibly disrespectful to those in the program, and to those in the audience.
Why can’t I walk in public with my father without having others walk past us, loudly carrying on
a conversation rippled with expletives? I’ve experienced people cursing loudly on the phone
walking as if in a daze and they run into others…and then they curse at the person they ran
into! Soon enough, these behaviors erupt into violence. What kind of message are we sending
to today’s youth?
I’m not convinced that our region is among the worst in our country relative to decorum and
civility, but I’m also not willing to state that we are among the best. I called my good friend and
colleague, Teri McNally, the executive director for our Community Foundation to seek her
thoughts on the matter. Teri and I are currently reviewing other communities’ process with The
Civility Process and we are considering launching an initiative here in the Fredericksburg
Region. We are asking ourselves: Can our community benefit from this discussion? Should we
draw attention to this? We’d like to know what you think. Contact me or Teri with your
In the meantime, we urge all citizens in our region to join us in practicing 9 simple tools for
1. Pay Attention - Be aware and attend to the world and the people around you.
2. Listen - Focus on others in order to better understand their points of view.
3. Be Inclusive - Welcome all groups of citizens working for the greater good of the
4. Don’t Gossip - And don’t accept when others choose to do so.
5. Show Respect - Honor other people and their opinions, especially in the midst of a
6. Be Agreeable - Look for opportunities to agree; don’t contradict just to do so.
7. Apologize - Be sincere and repair damaged relationships.
8. Give Constructive Criticism - When disagreeing, stick to the issues and don’t make a
9. Take Responsibility - Don’t shift responsibility and blame onto others; share
Whether we adopt this formally or if each of us makes a dedicated effort to use these tools,
together we will affect positive change in our community now that will strengthen our youth