(C. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, July 20, 2012)
Ferndale is well-known for its active citizenry and good neighbor attitude. But one group wonders if it can be even better.
That’s why Citizens for Fair Ferndale hosted the first Civility Project event on July 10, 2012. Just under 50 residents gathered at the Library to hear Civility Center Founder Kent Roberts talk about how communities can do a better job of connecting.
The bulk of the event was spent in brainstorming groups, with people working on one question and then switching off to other tables to mix up the conversations.
Roberts, a former teacher and athletics coach in Waterford started the Civility Center as a tool to help cities work more effectively. He’s even written a book called Bring a Dish to Pass, which was given away to participants in the Kick Off.
The premise of his initial lesson was that if groups improve communication and learn how to work well together they will fare better in challenging times and thrive when teamwork and resources are in abundance.
Questions like ‘What makes Ferndale unique?’ and ‘What is the difference between talking with someone and talking at someone?’ helped attendees articulate concepts about community that seem obvious on the surface, yet aren’t talked about all the time.
“It’s not what I know, it’s what you discover,” Roberts explained of his workshop teaching style. Simple conversations with rotating members talking can be a great way to bring ideas out and give everyone a seat at the table.
Euna Feschuk was one of many attendees who typically hasn’t come out to volunteer or get involved before. She came, she said, “Because the more familiar you are with a community, you get a feeling of comfort.”
Kate Baker is a former City Councilperson who also served as Mayor for a month during a transitional period in City leadership. Those experiences, as well as her life of volunteering and working for Wayne State University, have given her firsthand experience listening to multiple viewpoints. “Remember that the person you’re talking to has an authentic viewpoint. In their mind they are right. They are experiencing something that is real to them,” she said.
Gretchen Abrams shared an idea that was heard in one of her table’s discussions. “I really like the phrase ‘active listening’ because you are having a back and forth and you’re participating,” she said.
Teacher and parent April Murphy relayed “understanding that you’re not looking for a single path, but looking for multiple ideas and solutions” is a good way to approach a conversation where they may be some contention.
None of this stuff was any new to the participants, but giving them an opportunity to discuss it with changings faces at the tables should help them broach these kinds of conversations with others in the community.
Bridget Deegan-Krause, who sits on the Board of CFF, said the decision to bring in Roberts came about because the group was looking to take on a new project and some grant money became available through the generous support of the Buck Dinner. CFF does many projects that bring people together with a mind for community involvement and fairness, including being host of the Good Neighbor Awards, hosting election forums when the League of Women Voters is unable to, and being the home of Fern Care and the City’s Human Rights Ordinance.
“Knowing we’re coming up on an election season, we want to enter into this in a spirit of productive dialogue,” Deegan-Krause said. “This discussion fits with our mission and hopefully will bring people together in a way that is civil and welcomes people to be involved.”
The Civility Project is not a political discussion, rather one of dialogue in general.
Kelly Farrah, Treasurer of CFF, explained that the next step is to have someone compile the notes from the meeting and come up with a document to serve as the springboard for the next discussion. For more information about the project, check CFF’s website at http://fairferndale.org/.
For the National Civility Center’s Keys to Civility, go to http://www.civilitycenter.org/keys.php.