The Hour Covers Civility Conversation

A nice article by Danielle Calpalbo on what happened during the Community Conversation on Civility.

By DANIELLE CAPALBO Hour Staff Writer NORWALK — “Bark less, wag more.” That was among the suggestions put forth Wednesday during a salon-style conversation about civility, planned by Red Apples, an education reform group, and Norwalk 2.0, a community development group.
The function took place at Fat Cat Pie Co., where upward of 40 people– councilmembers, political hopefuls and parents among them – chatted over wine and pizza about the tenor of public discourse in the city.
“It’s about civility and chardonnay,” said Lisa Brinton Thomson, a co-founder of Red Apples. “We are trying to pull this town together in a relaxed setting to talk about something important. We’re all Norwalkers.”
For some, the impetus to attend was public education. For others, it was the budget process, which descended last spring, at times, into gridlock and hostility.
“It was the most contentious budget cycle I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Councilman Doug Hempstead. “Civility could use a comeback.”
Judy Meikle, who runs the GED program for Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, Inc. (NEON), attended the forum to encourage model behavior among adults.
“Young people watch what we do,” she said. “The way that adults behave – we are setting an example.”
Others were drawn by curiosity, they said, and others to listen.
The audience included candidates for the Common Council and Andy Garfunkel, the Democrat vying to become the mayor.
The sense among the crowd was that civility has taken a battering in local and national dialogue, largely because of the down economy.
“Without job security and with work being outsourced, there are a lot of angry people,” said Olive Hayward, a longtime corporate employee who attended the forum with her husband, Julius, the vice chairman of the Norwalk Parking Authority.
Hempstead suggested that decorum can be lost when critics are able to remain anonymous; he pointed to city blogs, where comments are sometimes seething with vitriol.
“People have lost some of the checks they used to have,” he said.
When they first arrived, visitors were asked to describe civility in a word. Their choices were showcased on their nametags: “Common ground,” ”self respect,” ”tolerance” and “etiquette.”
Visitors were also encouraged to share their ideas with post-it notes, sticking them to posters along the wall that bore prompts like, “Something I can do in my everyday work/life to be more civil…”
Answers will be compiled and published next week in a community report, Thomson said.
“It’s really about letting people identify what they feel, see and care about,” said Jackie Lightfield, the co-founder of Norwalk 2.0.
Susan Wallerstein, a longtime educator and former councilwoman, called the function “the high-touch counterpart to high-tech.” ”We are taking the civility index,” she said.