By Amber Kiggins-Leifheit
MACF Executive Director
The Marshfield Area Community Foundation sponsors the Speak Your Peace Civility Project in Marshfield. The basic principles are simple and straightforward and involve the idea that it is often not what is said but how it is said that initiates conflict.
Facilitators have presented the program to about 20 groups so far. Several local businesses and groups have agreed to adopt a resolution to embrace Speak Your Peace, including Staab Construction, the Marshfield Area Community Foundation board and staff, the Marshfield News-Herald, Sunrise Rotary, Marshfield Kiwanis, the Marshfield Student Council, Wood County Social Services, local churches, and several individuals over the past five years.
I suspect there are skeptics who question the need or likelihood of success of such a project. I was skeptical myself. However, I have visited and spoken to people in cities close to here who believe it is working in their communities.
The Community Foundation in Duluth-Superior launched this program in response to what it was seeing in its community. Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior are adjacent cities and had been very competitive. Superior even erected a billboard that said, “Next to Duluth, We’re Superior.”
Organizers also saw a lack of political participation in their community. The same people were holding political seats, and elections were going uncontested. The local political process had become nasty and uncivil. Locals said it was a “blood sport.” Residents were reluctant to run for local elected offices, new ideas were not making their way into public discourse, and there was a lack of collaboration between the two sister cities.
Speak Your Peace was a success in Duluth-Superior. The community foundation there has demonstrated that this project has had an impact on education and political participation, and it received national recognition.
In 2008 when the paper mills closed in Wisconsin Rapids, many of the city council and school board meetings were erupting. The Community Foundation of South Wood County introduced the same nine tools as Speak Your Peace and now reports that this project has changed the way people communicate in Wisconsin Rapids.
Coming together to talk about issues in a civil manner is a good thing. Our community, state, and nation continue to be deeply divided by issues: health care reform, education, school vouchers, the environment, gun rights, abortion, and many others. Our last election highlighted how divided we are.
The tools of Speak Your Peace are Pay Attention, Listen, Be Inclusive, Don’t Gossip, Show Respect, Seek Common Ground, Repair Damaged Relationships, Use Constructive Language, and Take Responsibility. They are based on the book “Choosing Civility” by P.M. Forni.
Yes, these sound like skills we were all taught in kindergarten. When I was explaining the project to my sister-in-law, she referred to these skills as “how to play nice in the sandbox.”
All of us have been at a child’s sporting event when a parent crosses the line and is no longer just being a fan. We have witnessed them yelling at coaches and referees. Many of us have similar experiences in different situations, and many of us walk away thinking that we could have dealt with them better.
With the stresses of everyday life, many of us need a good review. I will be highlighting each tool over the next nine weeks in a series of articles. The more we all learn about polite, civil discussion is a good thing. It is worth a try, and it may help bring our community together.
If you are interested to learn more, visit marshfieldareacommunityfoundation.org/index.php?page=speak-your-peace or give us a call at 715-384-9029.