• Malka Kopell

Civity's Bay Area Academy

Updated: May 22, 2019

Last spring Civity invited Bay Area leaders working for equity to a Civity Academy.

Individuals from a range of organizations, including Bay Area Social Justice Funders Network, The Bridgespan Group, Palo Alto Forward, VolunteerMatch, and Catholic Charities, came together to prepare to use Civity to further their work. The two dozen leaders also hailed from faith communities, environmental organizations, and educational institutions.

In a kick-off workshop, the cohort was introduced to the Civity Framework (Intentionality, Authenticity, Respect and Empathy) to connect across Difference. Participants then internalized the elements of the Framework through interactive exercises.

  • They practiced Intentionality by taking responsibility for changing the dynamic and tenor of a conversation.

  • They experienced being Authentic and “showing up” by sharing stories.

  • They learned the power of offering Respect to another person by demonstrating “I see you.”

  • They discovered how to create mutual Empathy with others in a single conversation.

  • And they practiced “putting Difference on the table” – leaning in to differences as a pathway to relationship rather than shying away from differences with others.

Over the summer after the workshop, these Civity Academy leaders brought the training into their lives, into the real world, by conducting Civity Conversations and briefer Civity Brushes with those around them.

How did it go? The results were astonishing and inspiring. Here are some stories:

  • Kathy, in a hotel restaurant on a business trip, struck up a conversation with a man at the same community table. After a few minutes of chatting, she realized the man held political viewpoints almost 180 degrees different from hers. Instead of changing the subject or walking away, she decided to put difference on the table and asked him to talk about what he believed and why. Kathy said, “I was in conversation with someone I had never met before and realized I had the opportunity to turn it into a Civity Conversation… decided not to debate him, but really try to understand him.” For Kathy, the connection was unusual – and memorable. “When I decided to just try to walk in his shoes…, I found it easy to feel empathy and increased understanding of his perspective. And I believe that my decision to authentically listen and hear him made him open to hearing me as well. He even said ‘I've never thought of it that way before, but I see your point.’”

  • Sandra, on the phone with a fellow traveler working toward environmental health who often opposes her on specifics, was engaging in the same old argument she had had with him many times before. She decided to be intentional, authentic – and a little vulnerable – and said, “I’m sad that we are on different sides of this issue… we need to work together.” That one statement transformed the tone of the conversation. Sandra said, “I discovered that there was a measure of control that I had – to change the conversation, to shift the energy.”

  • Waiting for his BART train early one morning, Greg noticed a man on one of the cars who had a stuffed shopping cart and a blaring radio. Greg also noticed that many other car occupants looked bothered or were pointedly ignoring this man. Walking into the car, Greg looked at the man and offered respect by saying cheerily, “Party time?” That resulted in a conversation between the two that lasted until the man reached his stop – ending in a fist bump and an exchange of good wishes. Unbeknownst to Greg, another passenger on the car took a photo and sent it to a reporter on a local TV station, saying she was moved by the dignity and respect of the interaction. Eventually the post went viral, and people who recognized Greg from the photo sent him messages from all over the country. Greg said, “I had had doubts that Civity, although good for me, didn’t really matter to anybody else; and yet I saw that the reaction to someone just being civilized to another person was profoundly impactful.”

These Civity leaders and others experienced the joy of being authentic and respectful with someone, even if the interaction was short. And they realized they had the power to do this themselves – each, in their own, small way, thread by thread, to change the fabric of society.

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