Pulse of Philanthropy: Celebrating a Decade of the Civility Project


In our high-tech world dominated by smartphones, artificial intelligence and social media, the concept of civility can easily be dismissed as a quaint but antiquated concept. Yet as our political discourse grows increasingly angry and our policy debates degrade into condescending tweets from both sides of the political aisle, the importance of civility has never been greater. Civility is not simply a polite formality; it is perhaps the single most important principle that makes America possible.  

If you care deeply about our nation, you almost certainly have strong opinions about what is right for our country and its people. Civility is the foundation of respectful dialogue. It allows individuals with differing perspectives to engage in conversations that are constructive. When we engage in civil discourse, we listen attentively and respect that another’s opinion can reasonably differ from our own. Through this exploration of ideas, we create better solutions than any one of us could identify on our own. Civility also reminds us that while we might have passionate disagreements about which policy path America should follow, those differences are rooted in a mutual love for our shared country.

Over the last decade, a group of committed Door County citizens have made it their mission to foster and incorporate the principles of civility into the fabric of everyday life. They’re not trying to stifle political debate nor silence dissent. Rather, their vision is an engaged community that values the opinions and ideas of others and is committed to civil behavior and discourse.

Orlaine Gabert, one of the founders of the Door County Civility Project, recalls the dozen people who first came together in May 2013 and formally organized themselves in July of that same year.  

“With some real interest from the community and a group of volunteers, we learned about the nine tools to speak and act with civility,” Gabert said.  

The organizers grounded their work in the national “Speak Your Peace” movement, which reframes the abstract idea of civility as nine practical lessons of how you can “live” the ideals of civility in your daily life.  You can learn about the Nine tools of Speak Your Peace at

The organizers eventually took the national curriculum, customized it for Door County, then equipped a cadre of local trainers to spread those principles of civility throughout our community. Over the last decade, the 38 trained volunteers of the Door County Civility Project have conducted more than 300 training sessions, ranging from 30-minute overviews on the nine principles of civility to two-day intensive workshops on communication and conflict resolution strategies. These training sessions have been offered to elected officials, local businesses, law enforcement, schools, front-line seasonal workers and literally thousands of others of our friends and neighbors in Door County. 

“Countless numbers of individuals have made comments to me about how the Civility Project workshops, newspaper articles and posters are frequent reminders to them to breathe before responding, to think about the words and tone they use in speaking during times of conflict, to delay conversations until they are in the right frame of mind,” said Shirley Senarighi, another of the original organizers. “This has positively impacted interpersonal relationships, as well as relationships among members of various groups. Groups can then function more efficiently and effectively.”

The upcoming election offers us an urgent reminder of the importance of civility. By design, elections are a time when differing ideologies, opinions and visions for our future clash. This respectful but robust competition of ideas has always been central to our American system. But in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, civility must be our universal guiding principle if our democracy is to thrive, not just today, but for generations to come.

Our children will observe how we advocate for and support our preferred candidates. If we engage in civil discourse and treat those with whom we disagree with respect, we are modeling for others the importance of constructive dialogue, the value of listening to differing perspectives and the necessity of finding common ground in our civic life.  

Civility is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a testament to our collective strength precisely because of our willingness to approach one another with dignity and respect. By upholding the principles of civility, we both perpetuate the democratic ideals we cherish and make possible unified efforts to address the challenges facing our nation.

The Door County Civility Project is currently building the next generation of board members and/or volunteer trainers. If you’re interested in getting involved, email [email protected].

Bret Bicoy is President and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation. Contact him at [email protected].