If we are going to strengthen our communities, it is imperative that we learn to have courageous political conversations about difficult issues without resorting to destructive name calling and other uncivil tactics.

The divisiveness and incivility we are seeing at the national and state level in political discourse is only going to divide us and keep us at each other’s throats. We all lose when that happens.

So, it was heartening and gratifying to learn recently that a group of local elected officials have developed a civility pledge and are encouraging other elected and appointed officials to either adopt that pledge or modify the language if they so desire.

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Rufus Woods

Publisher emeritus

They call themselves the Upper Valley Commissioners and the group includes Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert; Randy Smith and Steve McKenna of Chelan County PUD, and Chelan/Douglas Regional Port Commissioner JC Baldwin. Former Chelan County commissioner and current 12th District Rep. Keith Goehner was a founding member of the group and still stays plugged into their work.

They invited me to listen in on their discussions about the pledge as they were hammering out the language over the past few weeks. What impressed me most about their approach to this issue is that they are asking others to join them in voluntarily taking a civility pledge and that other elected officials are welcome and encouraged to tweak the language to meet their own sensibilities.

Here’s the language they have come up with. They pledge to:

  • Respect the right of our constituents to hold different opinions
  • Strive to understand differing perspectives and treat all individuals with dignity and respect
  • Speak truthfully without accusation, and avoid distortion
  • Speak out in support of non-violence, inclusion and civil discourse
  • Choose words thoughtfully
  • Refrain from rhetoric intended to humiliate, de-legitimize or question the patriotism of those whose opinions are different from ours

I greatly appreciate the aspirational language that they have chosen to adopt in this pledge — it invites others to listen to the better angels of their nature and do their best to treat everyone (including people with whom they vehemently disagree) with dignity and respect.

They are vowing to do their best to set a good example: “We further pledge to exhibit and encourage the kind of personal qualities that are emblematic of a civil society: gratitude, humility, openness, propriety, kindness, faith, a sense of duty and service to others, and a commitment to doing what we believe is in the best long-term interest of our communities.”

When I read this language, I am reminded of the political leadership of so many elected officials from our past. A few years ago, I was chatting with longtime local Republican leader Joan Kraft at a meeting of the Mainstream Republicans in Leavenworth. Joan, sadly, passed away last year.

As we were discussing the state of political discourse in this country, Joan had some deep insights to share. She recalled that when she was in a leadership position for the local Republicans and the late Jim Lynch was in a similar position with the Democrats, that “their problems were not with each other,” as she put it. The greatest challenges each faced were from the folks with extreme views — extreme Democrats in Lynch’s case and extreme Republicans in Joan’s case.

In the civility pledge being offered by the Upper Valley Commissioners, I see the same spirit of constructive engagement. In many respects, the pledge they developed is akin to the Rotary Four-Way Test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all?

Chelan County commissioners, the Chelan-Douglas Regional Port, Chelan PUD and other entities are considering adopting these principles. I think every one of us would benefit by adhering to these principles of treating people with dignity and respect.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com or 509-665-1162.