Civility, Kindness and Inclusion Crucial to Our Future Success

June 29, 2018

Linda Blechinger, GMA President

Linda Blechinger
Linda Blechinger
The following is Aburn Mayor Linda Blechinger's prepared remarks after being sworn in as GMA President during GMA's 2018 Annual Convention.

Thank you very much.

I’d like to express my gratitude for your confidence and support for entrusting me with the presidency of such an outstanding organization as the Georgia Municipal Association.

It is an honor.

I will endeavor to carry on the excellent example of our past president, Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, and her predecessors.

Thank you, Dorothy, for your leadership this past year. You and those that preceded you … Boyd Austin, Mike Bodker, Keith Brady, Beth English, and all the rest … have provided me a great foundation to follow and build upon.

Thank you again for granting me the honor of serving you as president of GMA.
 
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Each year, I look forward to attending GMA’s Annual Convention.

Like I lot of you, I feel that it’s a special time. A time to see old friends and to make new ones.

It’s a revival, of sorts. A chance to enjoy each other’s company, learn how to be better leaders, and to spend some time delving into the gospel … the good news … of cities.

It’s important that we do that as we as local elected and appointed leaders have an important role to play in our democracy.

And our convention theme this year … The Character of Cities: Civility, Kindness, Inclusion … voices that.

This year’s theme speaks to cities as something so much more than simply a political entity defined in state law and its charter, or as a bureaucracy going about those things that need to be done day in, day out.

To me, this year’s theme addresses those traits that are crucial for our cities and our democracy to flourish.
 
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Character is defined as the “mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Another definition says it’s the “mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation.”

Our character reflects who we are as individuals, but also as to what we are as a community.

And our theme goes on to make the case that civility, kindness, and inclusion, are core to our cities’ character and are crucial to our success.

Civility is, technically, “formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” But it’s much more than that.

Being civil to each other allows us as leaders to bring people to the table and to exchange ideas.

Dr. P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Initiative at John Hopkins University, has this to say:

“Civility is a big container that holds so much. If I meet you in the street and I say good morning, that's an adherence to very old traditional rules of good manners. By doing so, I have told you that I have acknowledged your existence, and that is civility.”

Quite simply, civility is an everyday act we can all do.

It is gracious … it is respect … it is thoughtful consideration of others.

It is something we as leaders must do to proactively engage with those in our cities, both those that agree with us and those that disagree with us.

For those of us searching for common ground as we work toward the ideal of the common good, we must be willing to acknowledge and act civilly toward all those that call our cities home.

The poet Alice Carey once wrote, “There's nothing so kingly as kindness, and nothing so royal as truth.”

It costs us nothing to be kind to others.

Kindness is brought about by truly giving worth and value to each person we meet. Yes, even those we disagree with.

But kindness isn’t just about being nice.

Here’s what Anaheim, California, Mayor Tom Tait has to say about kindness:

“This is not just a feel-good thing. Kindness actually is serious business. It builds social muscle—the ability of a community to rally in the face of disaster and rebound even stronger.”

We have to work at it.

I have realized something about our society, not a new phenomenon perhaps, but something that has become more prevalent.

I think we tend to put people in the “good” box or the “bad” box.

If someone disagrees with us, we subconsciously think they are “bad.”

If we come to that conclusion, we lose all opportunity to learn from them, to understand their point of view, to acknowledge them as a person of value.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to be kind to a person, or a group of people, we have summarily dismissed in our minds.

After all, what do we gain when we shut people out because we disagree with them?

We’ll likely gain an enemy, mistrust is fed, and in the end, we all lose.

The remedy? Kindness.

As Albert Schweitzer said, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”

I believe if we are intentionally kind and daily practice civility, the art of inclusion becomes a little easier.

If we value each other and actively seek to grow as both an individual and a city, our world expands, our views are enriched, and our culture benefits.

Inclusion allows all the residents of our cities to make meaningful and mutually beneficial contributions to their communities.

Let’s each examine our own hearts and take a chance that by reaching out to others who look and sound different from us is indeed a benefit to all.  

I have learned to love people, to trust people, to seek people out because we truly need each other.

We are meant to be explorers and pioneers; always learning, letting ourselves be challenged, stretched and embraced by others.
 
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There’s a key skill we as leaders need to acknowledge and perfect if we want to do these things well.

And that is listening.

Good leaders are great listeners. They gain information by listening, even to their dissenters.

Mike Myatt, a leadership consultant to Fortune 500 companies and a contributing writer on Forbes.com, wrote an article titled “Why Most Leaders Need to Shut Up and Listen.”

In it, he says that the best leaders are proactive, strategic, and intuitive listeners. They recognize knowledge and wisdom are not gained by talking, but by listening.

Think about this – if you’re ready for advanced listening skills, don’t just listen to those who agree with you, but actively seek out dissenting opinions and thoughts.

Listen to those that confront you, challenge you, stretch you, and develop you.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Speak little, do much.”
 
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If we as leaders cultivate the art of listening well, then we open the door to civility, kindness and inclusion.

The act of civility will bring people to the table.

Embracing kindness will allow for discourse and the exchange of ideas.

And it will be through the act of inclusion that the solutions to the issues we face in our communities will be solved.

I encourage you to take a look at the posters in the lobby about what cities and city officials have done that exemplify these core traits.

It is inspiring.

From racial reconciliation to acts of personal kindness, cities and city officials are doing what needs to be done to create communities we can be proud to call home.

I look forward to this next year as GMA president and ask that we continue to tackle the issues we face together with civility, kindness, and inclusion.

Thank you and God bless.
 

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