‘Civility Night’ event to explore the power of mutual respect


In today’s political climate, many Americans believe they can’t be friends with people with opposing political viewpoints, or fear that any attempt to dive into a political topic with someone who might disagree would have a negative outcome.

This is part of the reason why Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson co-founded The Civility Project with Nolan Finley, editorial page editor for the Detroit News and Henderson’s long-time friend. Henderson and Finley rarely agree when it comes to politics, but their mutual respect for one another allows them to rise above their differences and actually listen, learn from and engage with each other.

Civility Night

On today’s show, Henderson speaks with Nolan about the goal of the project, and the upcoming Civility Night planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27 at Henry Ford College.

The Power of Civility

Two of Metro Detroit’s biggest political voices join us today in Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson.

Stephen as founding editor of Bridge Detroit and host of Detroit Today on WDET – and Nolan as editorial page editor of the Detroit News – they have very different views, but they’re good friends and have teamed up to create the Great Lakes Civility Project.

As a person who likes a good discussion, civility and how to make it happen is an interesting concept to me – and I wanted to talk it out with two people who have found ways to make it work.

Henry Ford College Partners with the Civility Project for election preview

The Great Lakes Civility Project, which aims to build civility by teaching people to listen to and understand one another, invites community members, students, faculty and local businesses to come together for a Civility Night at Henry Ford College from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 27.

After a discussion on civility led by Civility Project founders and renowned journalists Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson, participants will have an opportunity to immerse in civility-building guided by strategies and techniques taught by the Civility Project.

The program is themed Norms & Values of a Democratic Society, driven by the premise that some people believe democracy means the right to fight to impose their will, while others believe democracy shouldn’t force one position on the rest of the community – unless an initiative is morally wrong.  And that’s where the gray area comes in.

This program will explore how, and whether, democracy can survive in a pluralistic society.

“The last decade has been one of the most politically and emotionally divisive in American history, and as we get closer to midterm elections, those tensions will continue to rise,” Henderson said. “Confrontation happens when civility breaks down, and it’s more important than ever for Americans to be able work through disagreements in a respectful, productive manner.”

“A huge part of civility requires seeing the other person as human and trying to understand where they are coming from,” Finley said. “Our goal is to teach people how to truly listen to one another to move past conflict and work together more effectively. You don’t have to agree – but listening to understand is key.”

Anthony Perry, professor in HFC’s political science department, teaches his students the power and importance of civility to maintain a democratic society. He’ll be offering credit to students who attend the program, along with other faculty members at HFC.

“There is no better time than now to have this conversation,” Perry said. “Raising these issues with college students is a way to protect our nation’s future.”

Registration is now open at: https://forms.office.com/r/Fv1YqSEFJc.

Local Impact Alliance Bringing Civility Project To Westland

The Local Impact Alliance is bringing a Civility Project session to the Westland City Hall Ballroom on Tuesday February 7, 2023 at 11:30 a.m. The Civility Project is an effort to build friendships and have serious conversations across differences. The Civility Project was started by journalists, Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson. Henderson and Finley explore their friendship and ability to work together across political differences. 88.1 the Park’s Public Affairs Director, Avneet Pandher, spoke with Stephen Henderson about the project.

The Civility Project seeks to bridge the partisanship divide

From polarization in Congress to divisive partisanship in communities, politics in many ways has become mired in hostility.

Recent analysis done by the Pew Research Center shows Democrats and Republicans are farther apart today than at any time in the past 50 years and it’s having a detrimental impact- severing friendships, and in some cases inciting violence.

But two unlikely friendships and one initiative are bringing hope and a roadmap to how civility can be restored.

Katie Kraemer and Muhammed Smidi have a lot in common. They both went to the same high school – and were part of the same extracurricular club.

Each one calls the other a friend despite the one big thing they don’t see eye to eye on politics. 

“We have pretty different opinions on a wide range of issues,” says Smidi.

Katie identifies as a liberal. Muhammed? A conservative.

“I remember like sophomore year, Muhammed told me he wanted to be president one day, and he wanted to run as a Republican, and I was like hey you know, have some good views and I might vote for you in 20 years or whatever,” says Kraemer.

But what started as jokes turned into spirited debates, as Katie and Muhammed found their political voice as students at Oakland University.

“We’ve run organizations on campus that literally stand for opposing views,” says Kraemer.

The two have differing politics, sexual orientations, and religions, but today, say they’re closer than ever before, making this friendship a rarity—- particularly as partisan hostility grows.

The pew research center has found a majority of Democrats and Republicans now view members of the opposing party as “immoral” and “dishonest” – Republicans viewing Democrats as “lazy”.

“The whole point of this is to be able to see people beyond their politics,” says journalist Stephen Henderson.

Enter The Civility Project, the initiative of two journalists to break down hostility and encourage more civility through workshops & dialogue. It is sponsored by Delta Dental and Huntington Bank.

“It breaks down the assumptions, leads to more respect for one another,” says Nolan Finley.

Today, Finley of the Detroit News and Henderson of NPR have teamed up to host discussions in company workplaces, school districts, and community groups, helping those who don’t see eye to eye at least see through to the other side – an idea that was born out of their own unique friendship

bridging the partisanship divide
From polarization in Congress to divisive partisanship in communities, politics in many ways has become mired in hostility.

“We don’t agree on almost anything, but we do it in a way that’s respectful,” says Henderson. “We’ve gotten here because of the division that we see over politics and culture.”

Some have blamed rhetoric at the top and others? Cable news stations that have leaned into the division.

“It’s fear, and it’s easier to fear what you don’t know,” says Henderson.

But since the pandemic began, the project has seen big demand to squash the fear, the two having now led over 100 discussions

“It says people really want something different,” says Henderson.

“There’s a hunger I believe for civility and for how to get to a more civil place,” says Finley.

And perhaps, even get to a friendship where the no-go topics aren’t off the table and where one person disagreeing with the other is viewed through a vein of acceptance versus hate.

“There’s that mutual respect that we have for each other that it’s a conversation,” says Smidi.

“We’re allowed to disagree and still like each other as people,” says Kraemer.

Initially posted at WXYZ Detroit

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