The Civility Solution

civility solutionSept. 14, 2009 Rather than rehash the coarse conduct of music stars, athletes, and politicos reaching some new lows this past week, I’d like to point to The Civility Solution (Sept. ’09) the sequel to one of my faves, called “Choosing Civility: 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct.”

Why? Because we’ve got major media moments ripe for peeling back a deeper conversation on how this is all landing on youth…

This is ‘kidvid’ media literacy 101…How to handle ‘grace under fire,’ lessons of unfairness, and eyewitness views of spotlight robbing and bullying antics against leaders in their fields, capping a jam-packed week of ‘adults behaving badly.’

There was Congressman Joe Wilson’s unfathomable outburst of ‘political Tourette’s’ yelling, “You lie!” at President Obama in mid-speech…

There was Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance at the MTV Video Music Awards like an arrogant twit, (or a well-seeded ratings/publicity stunt?) and sadly, incivility trounced BOTH athletes in a stunning U.S. Open upset when tennis idol Serena Williams lost her cool.

Serena lost the opportunity to do what she’s done so many times before, comeback from a tough spot with champion fervor. Kim Clijsters lost the opportunity for the hard-won elation athletes feel when they play their hearts out and triumph over the best. Le sigh.

It’s no secret we’re in dire need of a channel change in this ‘reality show’ of life seen through the eyes of our media circus. So…What to do?

serena-clijstersRather than vilifying human foibles with hands-down judgment in the court of conduct time and again (which we all agree continues to be sad and surreal) sometimes it makes sense to use the whole incident as a teaching tool…Whether it’s focusing on how to recover from a mistake (Serena’s WTA statement here) the cause and effect of consequences, reputation management, or genuine vs. perfunctory contrition.

Serena shook hands with Kim before leaving the court and post match recapped,

“I said something and they gave me a point penalty. Unfortunately, it was on match point. You know, today was a tough day. I didn’t play my best. I think I had more errors today than all of my other matches combined. It was really tough for me out there.”

Yes, it was…and it was frustrating for us to watch it, seeing how anger towards herself ignited a firestorm that left them both burned, being unable to play the game they love. Both athletes lost.

The Miami Herald summed,

“Kim Clijsters, the Belgian former No. 1 who is back after a two-year maternity leave, said it was ‘unfortunate’ that the match ended that way. She had outplayed Serena Williams most of the match and didn’t want to win on a Williams code violation.”

I’ll say. BOTH athletes were robbed of the ability to thrive in their sport, and the fallout was ugly to boot.

dollar-signFor kids, we can point to the very real costs involved (both figuratively and literally with karma careening in favor of the opposition, financial penalties, cash in coffers, etc.) when tempers spiral out of control and extend the conversation to others that get hurt in the fallout of the blast zone.

It’s easy to extend the  conversation into reputation management  with costs of student jobs and career paths too…

In this post,“Dude, Seriously, Facebook Could Cost You A Job” CareerBuilder reports 35% of candidates were turned down based on something that was said in their profiles. Ouch.

Whether it’s a hothead moment or in these celebrity cases, endorsement deals, advertising dollars, and other reputation reverb, there’s no question people are getting hurt. Choosing Civility and the Civility Solution (‘What to do when people are rude’) could probably be a remedial life lesson for our entire media culture.

I think Tennis Planet had the best rally of dialog lobbing the fans into the media mix as well. One commenter, Gracie summed,

“Kim and her fans deserved to have the opportunity to celebrate. And Serena’s fans deserved the chance to see last year’s winner defend the title. People want to see a match to its bona fide finish so they can cheer the winner, whoever it is. This isn’t tantric tennis…”

She goes on to cite the unruly dynamic of the boo-fest and unfairness overall,

“As a fan who has paid oodles of money for tickets to Majors, I think it’s safe to say that more of the booing was against that chair umpire for depriving them of a finish, than it was against Serena.”


Could it have been prevented? Possibly.

Electronic replays and umpire intervention could’ve cooled down the drama, so athletes could self-calm…

To me, that’s not so different than coaching kids to “count to ten” to keep it together. (or my own self-imposed ‘poison pen policy’ for trolls of holding email ’24 hours before pressing send)

Personal responsibility for our own conduct is a given, and we all agree it was a setback for civility, but as NBC’s Celizic sums,

“What more can you do to her? And why would you do it?”

These media moments are classic ‘show and tell’ of how mopping up the damage does NOT always erase the stench. The incidents hurt ALL involved, violating trust and revealing the underbelly of a culture all too quick to build heroes and take them down with a swipe or two.

It forces us all to remind kids to take a long hard look at the ol’ ‘engage brain before mouth’ behavior and gulp down words before they tumble outta there and wreak havoc in the first place.

serena2Players like Roddick, Connors and McEnroe have made racket smashing and word hurling part of normative nasties for years.

Yet when Serena fell to that level it took many by surprise and opened up a whole new dialog about stereotypes, intimidation, gender equity, race and comparative norms, as you can see on BlackTennisPro’s blog.

NBC Sports duly noted,

“As bad as the outburst was, it was mild by the standards established years ago first by Connors and refined by the inimitable McEnroe. Connors was, quite simply, crude and vile to officials. What McEnroe lacked in crudity, he made up for in sheer mania.”

Does that make it right? No. But let’s dish out the consequence, own it, learn from it, and move on.

choosing-civilityCheck the scapegoating and glorifying of tantrums in the locker room and leave it there.

No need to keep up the film loop coverage, “was she REALLY, sorry? Find out-film at 11” teasers or demonize and vilify an athlete who HAS added greatly to the sport.

Kids have GOT to get this figured out early on, because we sure as heck can’t count on media to echo our own values.

The ‘so bad it’s good’ wild child sensationalism reinforcing negative attention particularly with ‘repeat offenders’ (ahem, Kanye) lands us with a bunch of cruddy behavioral norms and new benchmarks for what’s ‘acceptable.’

How often do you hear kids’ wailing, “That’s SO unfair!”

A child who angrily shrieks, “omg, I SAID I was sorry, what’s the big deal?”

Orone who genuinely wonders why it still feels a little prickly and ‘not quite right’ around mom or dad or siblings who might have endured painful slurs like  “I hate you SO much” NEEDS to have it reinforced that hurts do NOT heal instantly and the sting stays LONG after the moment is gone.

There IS no ‘easy fix’…there are consequences. Whether that’s losing trust or credibility or role model status for some celebs…

For better or for worse, we now have plenty of media moments to replay again and again as evidence of same…We might as well use ’em to pop open a discussion on reputation management, sportsmanship, learning how to make amends and recover from mistakes, and getting a handle on anger management in the first place…Sure beats the hackneyed, ‘no one says life is fair’ adage.

Better yet, take those kid-vid teaching moments and turn the spotlight on graciousness to applaud those who’ve managed to turn a negative slam into a usable example of how to ‘recover’ from incivility in full bounceback resilience.


Look no further than President Obama’s speech…Wow. Talk about a threatening feeling of intimidation, when a Congressional colleague stoops to a level of trashy talk show shout-outs mid-session.

Poised and calm amidst uncanny disruption Obama responded very simply stating, “That’s not true,” which esummarily addresd and dismissed the heckler concurrently. Admirable.

Beyonce’s response to being the jaw-dropping recipient of Kanye’s rude ardor publicly deflating Taylor Swift who won best female video countered in her own style. (Even if it were staged, as rumors are claiming, it’s none the less an admirable ‘repair job’—Taylor conveys her gratitude here)

When Beyonce won best video of the year, she announced,

This is amazing. I remember being 17 years old, up for my first MTV award with Destiny’s Child and it was one of the most exciting moments of my life, so I would like for Taylor to come out and have her moment.”

Brava, Beyonce. Now THAT was a star move. Mind you, I’ve had my own criticism of Beyonce’s antics many, MANY a time, but this is not one of ’em…


Beyonce managed to take the ‘deer in the headlights’ look of Taylor Swift, seemingly frozen in public humiliation having her moment (and her trophy!) snatched out of her hands by Kanye, and turn it into a sisterhood scenario.

(Here’s the 1:44 VMA highlights via Artisan News Service, embedding disabled, ahem)

Taylor deserves a big ‘brava!’ too…When she returned to the stage with Beyonce, she epitomized that fresh-faced resilience of youthful rebounding, smiling, “Maybe we can try this again…”

Still, you kinda knew in your heart that stolen moment could never again be recaptured and the raw pain and trauma associated with that reaction on stage would always be with her.

Mind you, I realize that today’s NYT Media Decoder lays out evidence of Viacom/MTV playing ‘whack a mole’ with the YouTube replay footage of Kanye and Taylor to force viewers to their hub site, so this could easily be yet another Lonely Girl 15 contrived press ruse…Even if it is…

The ‘take two’ act of resilience is worth applauding, thanking her fans while reminding youth everywhere that you can’t always change a situation, but you can change how you react to it.

There will be plenty of jerks out there, so youth need that skill set to know that even when ‘wronged’ there’s a choice and opportunity for how it’s going to land on everyone.

Whether it’s a boss, teacher, coach, parent or peer, there will come a time when ‘Choosing Civility’ is not only the hardest option, it’s the toughest point to ultimately win the game…

What do you think of all the incivility?

Will this impact your support one way or another? Is it even ‘real’ or is it staged for ratings with the VMA awards?

What role does Viacom have in choosing Kanye if he has a ‘reputation’ for ‘going off’ recklessly time and again?

Do you think this was purposeful wink and nod nudges for ratings and drama? Will this impact your media purchases or support pro or con for the artists/athletes in question?

Is ‘saying your sorry’ a common way to approach a slight, with ‘ok are we good now?’ aplomb?

Is there such a thing as being ‘too real’ or ‘transparent’ in public personas? (e.g. what I call the ‘Popeye’ argument, “I am what I am”) Where are the youth voices on this? Fair or foul?

Sound off…(with civility, please 😉

Other Resources on Civility From Dr. Forni’s Civility Website


The Civil Classroom in the Age of the Net

The Other Side of Civility

The Manners Maven (Johns Hopkins Gazette)

The Big Question
(Johns Hopkins Magazine)

Etiquette Crisis at Work: Employees say they’ve had enough of incivility, bad manners by Nicole Jacoby (

Workplace Misdeeds Top “Terrible Ten” Rude Behaviors List

Visual Credits: Serena/Kim: AP Photo-Getty via; Reputation balloon from



  1. Adding this one for kids:

    “Dude, that’s rude”


  2. Beth Hossfeld at Girls Circle Assoc. just wrote a great blog post w/tips for keeping our cool, reminding:

    “Stroke-triumphant” survivor and neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor tells us that we humans have nearly 100% of our DNA in common, and only .1% difference in DNA from one another, but we tend to focus on our differences instead of those commonalities. (See: Part 1 video on Oprah:; and

    We could be celebrating 99.9% of our time, but we explode or belittle others over disagreements. We lose our cool.”

    More here:

    First – Set our intention.

    Second- Practice the skills of calming down when we’re angry, feel mistreated, misunderstood, or ripped off.

    Third – Honor the compassion inside, and cultivate it.

    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Taylor Swift, Kim Clijsters and President Obama: Their Stolen Moments =-.

  3. The Decline in Civility & Respect stats and press release from McGruff et al here (Crime Prevention? Interesting; makes sense)

  4. Herminia Defilippo says

    there is no other music artist like taylor swift, she is definitely a goddess. i love ya taylor swift :'”

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