• P. J. Strand & M. Kopell

Civity Is Up to Us

The fundamental question facing any community or society is how its members are going to be with each other.

This question is more pressing now than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking lives, and the shelter-in-place directives aimed at saving lives are devastating many people’s livelihoods. A natural disaster is creating a social and economic disaster.

And yet in the midst of these disasters, many people are seeing each other in new ways – seeing in the sense of paying attention, being present, and acknowledging each other’s humanity.

In our COVID-19 world, we are seeing grocery store clerks and their dedication to keeping us fed. We are seeing teachers and appreciating their work as never before. We are seeing takeout and delivery drivers with an awareness of what lies behind their showing up at our doors.

We are also seeing people who are vulnerable, and we are taking action to care for them. At an individual level, we are sewing face masks. We are shifting Little Free Libraries to Little Free Pantries. We are reaching out to support local small businesses that are part of our regular routines and that are suffering when people stay away.

We are also acting collectively to change policy. State and local governments are protecting tenants who would otherwise be vulnerable to eviction because they are unable to pay rent. The U.S. government passed a bill of unprecedented scope that relieves immediate financial pressure for individuals – as well as corporations. Companies that have never provided sick leave for their employees are providing sick leave.

These policies, which treat people who are often not seen as people who matter, arise from a culture of civity. When we see people, including people who are very different from us, we take collective action to support and protect them.

Much of the work of Civity the organization is supporting local community leaders in being intentional about grounding their actions in seeing people who are different. Seeing leads to action, which leads to policy.

Historian Walter Scheidel asserts in his book The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality, that war and other violent upheavals – such as pandemics – are historically associated with significant shifts from inequality to greater equality.

In the current pandemic, we are experiencing the disruption of prevailing norms of inequality: We are seeing people who were previously invisible. And we are taking action, enacting policies of care and belonging.

The fundamental question facing any community or society is how its members are going to be with each other.

Our individual actions create a culture that responds to that question. The policies that emerge from that culture reflect that response.

Civity is taking root in the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic world.

Civity can also thrive in the U.S. post-COVID-19-pandemic world.

The choice is up to us.

Want to grow civity? Lead by example! Here are some things you can do right now:

1. Practice Civity Brushes: see, and say hello to (and thank), the people you do come in contact with – people in the grocery store, your mail carrier, the person who delivers your takeout, people you see on the street (from 6 feet away!)

2. Keep people who are more vulnerable than you during this pandemic in your thoughts and donate time or resources to support the initiatives and organizations that are supporting them.

3. Demonstrate your support for government policies that help members of our communities whose lives are precarious even in ordinary times.

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