Kimberly Jackson: It’s time to restore civility in American politics, life

Two business people shaking hands, businessman, hand
Who we are reflects not just in our words but also in our deeds.

Few could argue with the hard facts and truth that we are living in the most divided political time in modern American history. From city halls to state capitals and up to the nation’s capital, issues that divide us often take on angry personal tones that find all sides engaging in reckless rhetoric. Rivals are too often considered to be enemies, unlike other times when disagreements could be expressed with respect for all viewpoints.

I grew up in a small Midwestern town where civility was required in everyday living. Simple pleasantries like, “good morning” and “how are you doing” were genuine daily rituals. Random acts of kindness were not unusual. Once, I remember my mom brought store-bought cookies to take to the school bake sale. A friendly neighbor learned of this and graciously baked some for me to take to the sale. This act by our neighbor made me feel included in the community.

In sum, people cared. For our communities to thrive, we have to find commonality. Commonality does not mean agreement. There are many ways to connect that do not negate our individuality or ideological principles. In fact, our differences should make us stronger.

Our ideologies are shaped by our religious, educational, family, friend experiences or lack thereof.

Our ideologies are viewed through geographic lenses, economic mobility, and overall access to generational growth.

Our ideologies tend to divert us from unexpected experiences that could alter our perceptions in healthy ways.

The late Congressman Bill Young, a transcendent politician in Pinellas County whose statesmanship went beyond his district, Tallahassee and D.C., inspired the establishment of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS) at St. Petersburg College, an organization that tries to bring different factions to work together on policies and solutions — in the same civil manner that we did in my hometown. The Institute provides a nonpartisan, trusted convener forum to explore local, state, national and international issues.

At the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS), we know where the battle lines are in politics. But we also know there can and must be civility. As Congressman Young explained, “Our Forefathers understood that there was a need for government (but not too much) — to maintain civility, to maintain stability, to have an organized way of doing the people’s business.”

As ISPS produces community programs, we strive to treat all sides of debates with respect. It is customary for us to reserve green rooms for our guests. In these small rooms with just tiny water bottles and Ritz crackers, no lights and no cameras, our guests — diverse politicians, civic leaders, CEOs — all treat each other as equals.

In all of our programs as ISPS, we invite spirited but civil dialogue on a range of issues with leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors — all in a nonpartisan way. That creates a space and time to unpack differing perspectives without packing punches that pollute any conversation. Civility is at the heart of what we do — and it’s a value and trait that we all need to restore to our own spheres of influence.

As human beings, connection matters. Life is not linear. Let’s be honest. Policies are based on personal bias. Nothing has changed this truth. The difference is our sincere ability to respectfully and responsibly interact with others and remain civil when we disagree with their beliefs.

Civility is an active word. It requires recognition of another person’s humanity. At the end of the day, our footprint matters. Who we are reflects not just in our words but also in our deeds. Civility toward each other helps us all create a new, positive era for our cherished Republic and its democracy.


Kimberly Jackson is the executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions.

Guest Author


  • Ron Ogden

    January 19, 2022 at 4:28 am

    ““Our Forefathers understood that there was a need for government (but not too much). . .”
    You see the problem, Ms. Jackson. We’re all in favor of civility, but we all know what happens when we greet the destruction of our nation with nods and smiles, as you would have us do now for the sake of good feelings.

  • Gladys Nunamaker

    January 21, 2022 at 7:08 am

    Ms. Jackson, you said perfectly “There are many ways to connect that do not negate our individuality or ideological principles. In fact, our differences should make us stronger.” I wish every human being will understand that this prospective will never should change, and everyone should live by. You wrote a great article. Congratulations !!!!!!.

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