Vocabulary.com defines civility as “the act of showing regard for others by being polite.”
It is a sad, yet undeniable, commentary that we live in an age when civility surprises us in conversation and debate. It is no longer the norm. In fact, it is rarely even expected.
From the halls of our grammar schools to our halls of government, once-civil moments have become minutes and hours of anger, hate, screaming and worse.
The bad news? It’s getting worse.
The good news? One Tri-Cities native — who happens to have a bit of a bully pulpit all his own — is doing something about it. Granted, it’s a small step few might notice. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Kingsport native and Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins doesn’t care for the incivility he sees spreading like a persistent wildfire through society. He knows the court has no place nor jurisdiction in putting out that blaze. But he and his fellow justices have made a statement to new attorneys in Tennessee: We expect and demand civility from you.
The recently rewritten oath for every attorney applying to practice law in Tennessee reads. “I, ___________, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee. In the practice of my profession, I will conduct myself with honesty, fairness, integrity, and civility to the best of my skill and abilities, so help me God.”
Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices put their collective heads together on the revised oath, making slight changes and adding ‘fairness, integrity and civility,’ all important, meaningful and appropriate words for the oath. Talking to Bivins individually, his passion for a return of civility rings in the proud tone of his voice and the satisfaction etched on his face when he talks about the revision.
“This was a collaborative effort,” Bivins said. “I’m very happy with what we came up with.”
The entire bench of the Tennessee Supreme Court should be proud of this effort. A focus on civility in the broad conversation of today is important. We trust the justices will hold attorneys throughout the state to their promise of civility, as well as the promise of fairness and integrity.
Those are powerful, meaningful words. But they are more than words; they are actions of conduct.
Change must begin somewhere. The state’s highest court is a good place to start.