Civility is important to our quality of life

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Civility Project lives on in this sign proclaiming a commitment to civility on the front door of the Cleveland Heights Recreation Center.

It may not always seem to be in fashion, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about civility. In fact, it’s perhaps more important than ever to our quality of life as a community.

Although we have moved beyond the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Civility Project that started late in 2004, we must never allow ourselves to abandon the fundamental principles of civility. After all, some observers tell us that rudeness is on the rise in our society and that, in extreme cases, rudeness can lead to violence.

That’s why, if I am elected to Cleveland Heights City Council, I will support policies and programs that sustain and enhance civility.

As simplistic as it sounds, the civility initiative was about developing better relationships in Cleveland Heights by focusing on how we ought to treat each other. In a city as diverse as ours, establishing good relationships can present challenges.

Councilwoman Nancy Dietrich deserves much of the credit for initiating the project and for forming the 10-member steering committee behind it. Rather than blaming people for disruptive behavior, the committee wanted a positive value to promote – civility. I love the way that, time and time again, people in Cleveland Heights look for ways to find positive solutions to problems. The committee sought to create a “buzz” and get buy-in from key players, including the schools, businesses, houses of worship, the city and our police and fire departments.

Why is civility so important?

Dr. P.M. Forni of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, who spoke to residents as the project got under way, pointed out that having relational competency or a high social IQ is a better predictor of success in life than a high IQ. He explained that people with the best social skills are more apt to enjoy the relations with others that facilitate success.

Acknowledging this, our schools became a focal point for civility initiatives. Deborah Delisle, who was superintendent of schools at the time, embraced civility and made it a priority in teacher training. The high school made civility its 2005 homecoming theme. And in the 2006-2007 academic year, Al Slawson, a teacher at Wiley Junior High School, led programs such as the Civility Ambassadors that improved relations between students, merchants and residents.

The Civility Project Committee also recognized that the future of our community is the new people coming into our neighborhoods. It’s just as important today as it has always been that residents get to know new residents and create good relationships.

Realtors and landlords are encouraged to inform city hall when new homeowners or tenants move in so the city can be sure they receive an official welcome kit that includes information about “Being a Good Neighbor,” “Ordinances You Should Know,” “Refuse and Recycling” and more. Some landlords are better about this than others. If you know of new residents or renters who need this information, contact Community Relations at 216/291-2323 or If you want a handy reference or refresher course on city ordinances and other information, ask for your own copy of Cleveland Heights at a Glance.

Those who have embraced civility are convinced of its benefits. John Lentz, pastor of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, was a member of the Civility Project Committee and says it impacted his church positively as he used civility practices to enhance relationships and understanding within the church membership through dialogue.

Cleveland Heights and University Heights are far from unique in being concerned about civility. Recognition is growing of the need for civility, and organizations from NASA to hospitals, churches, libraries and schools, and cities in all parts of the country have initiated civility programs.

To some extent, civility principles are ingrained in our operating procedures in Cleveland Heights, as evidenced by the regularly updated welcome kits. But we can always do better, and that is especially true in this time of change and economic challenge. More than ever, neighbors need to step up, proactively welcome newcomers, and talk to one another.  Being civil to your neighbors pays off because, with few exceptions, they will reciprocate.

What can you do if you have serious problems with a neighbor that you can’t resolve on your own? Call Community Relations at Cleveland Heights City Hall. Our city has ordinances to deal with inappropriate behavior.

Mary Dunbar, a financial and communications expert who has lived in Cleveland Heights since 1970, is a candidate for Cleveland Heights City Council this fall.

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Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 9:15 AM, 08.13.2009