Updated: May 22, 2019
by Palma Strand
When Malka and I first started writing about “civity,” our computers and phones auto-corrected it to “cavity.” (Good for a chuckle, but completely random!)
And when we now talk about “civity” in conversation, people frequently think we’re talking about “civility.” (A distant family member, but related only to the same degree as you and your shirt-tail cousin – with a number of seconds, thirds, or fourths and several times removed.)
So where did this word come from and why do we use it?
First, a reminder of what “civity” means to us: people working together to solve important civic problems … in communities, cities, and regions.
We coined this term because there isn’t another word that captures all of these elements. People. Working together. On civic problems. In communities, cities, and regions.
Though “civity” isn’t actually a completely made-up word: In earlier times, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “civity” was another word for “city.”
And before “city” came to have its current connotation of physical place and space, it meant “the body of citizens, the community.”
“The body of citizens, the community.”
The city was the people.
We use the word “civity” because it reminds us that a city – an actual city, a region, or any body of citizens or residents – is still the people.
OK, “civity” is the people. So what? Wouldn’t the word “community” be just as good?
We don’t think so.
“Community” emphasizes what people in a group have in common. (There are those word families again – “community” and “common.”)
“Civity” goes beyond to embrace also difference and diversity. For equity – of course. But also because difference and diversity are the very essence of resilience: Biodiversity makes for healthy ecosystems; human diversity makes for healthy social systems.
“Community” is indispensable: We need safe, bonded, nurturing spaces.
“Civity” reminds us that we work better and more effectively when our working relationships reach within and stretch across. We also need the bridging relationships that expand our networks and enable us to bring more perspectives, resources, and creative energy to bear on the the larger concerns we all share.
Circling back to “civility,” its importance in building “civity” is evident: Relationships of mutual respect, empathy, and trust that enable collaboration and creativity have a hard time developing if “civility” is absent.
And, oddly enough, even our computers and phones may be on to something. The word “cavity” comes from the Latin for “hollow.” “Civity” saves us from “cavity.”