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Mar 01 2015
ICEL - Compassionate Civility in the Workplace
Erik Wright, CBF, Spectrum Engineers, Inc.

Webster's Dictionary defines 'Civility' as the act of being polite, reasonable, and is demonstrated through respectful behavior. Carla Kelly explained to ICEL members at our monthly luncheon that civility is another way to express compassion toward others. She voiced concern that civility has become eroded in our society. It has deteriorated in our interactions in government, in our businesses, in the media, and in our schools. In general, this lack of civility is a major problem in the world we live in and examples of incivility continue to plague our society more and more each day. 

In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, Carla Kelley founded the Human Rights Education Center of Utah (HREC) in 1999, a non-profit organization that provides bullying prevention and character and empathy education to youth and their leaders, as a means to reintroduce 'Civility' and 'Compassion' back into our society. She recognized that if she was to make a difference in the world that she would need to start with our children. Carla recited a short parable that helped illustrate her philosophy on how she could make a difference by helping each of us understand our role and what it takes to make a difference: 

"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world."

To change our world, it starts with us and recognizes the impact our lives have on those nearest to us.  Carla Kelly insinuated that we can all begin to help facilitate change by focusing inward before we can focus outward. 


With the raise of hands, an astounding number of individuals in attendance acknowledged that they have witnessed some sort of 'bullying' behavior in the workplace. Incivility is on noticeable display in the workplace where bullying is pervasive. An increasing number of employees are experiencing more stress due to the acts of their coworkers rather than their jobs. Much is due to the lack of 'tolerance.' Kelly pointed out that unlike civility, tolerance has fewer synonyms and is a concept more easily misunderstood. We live in a world, as she explained, where we deal with many different beliefs. Learning to be tolerant of others beliefs and views is important. Being both a human being and a kind person is a process. There is a great need in our world to be able to disagree without demonizing, debate without demeaning, and discuss without degrading. Compassionate discourse is a prerequisite for a more peaceful world. 

Kelly expounded that we need to move from 'describing' all the problems in the world and start 'prescribing' things that work. She helped us transition from being more mindful of all the issues that surround us to being more aware of the solutions that we currently have by breaking us out into small groups to discuss the things we all long for in our workplaces that would help create a more peaceful and productive work environment. We had to recognize key elements that helped facilitate a more desirable workplace. As each group shared their experiences the tone of the seminar changed from instructional to meaningful!  

Once again, members of ICEL were fortunate to have an informative and interactive presentation in which we all took away something valuable. While we all recognize that while individuals alone may not be able to change the world, we can make a difference in the small corner in which we reside. We can control our own behavior and begin to be better models of the world, the community, and the workplace. As we acknowledge and come to the aid of those around us that may be struggling or in need of a little help, think of the impact we can have as this conduct is emulated by others.