Portrait of Patrick Ross; Credit: Lisa Helfert

Today’s post is an interview with Patrick Ross, creator of iCivility.  He does a great job explaining his amazing project so I will leave it to him!

Would you briefly describe the project iCivility to Artist Strong readers?

The iCivility campaign is a non-profit grassroots movement promoting civility in all aspects of online and offline life. It is driven by the belief that by expressing the best parts of ourselves, we can make a better world. It began with a focus on communications online — blogs, comment fields, etc. — but has grown to encompass all societal dialogue.

How did iCivility begin?

I launched iCivility two years ago as a reaction to the increasing vitriol found online. As an artist advocate running a non-profit in Washington, D.C., I would find myself a target of policy opponents. The attacks leveled on me too often ignored whatever points I might be making. They were instead ad hominem personal attacks completely ungrounded in reality. It’s disconcerting to read a blog post comparing you to a child molester, let me tell you! I’ve been online since the early 1990s, and the anonymity and immediacy of the Internet has always encouraged incivility, but it seemed to me that ignorance and rudeness was on the rise. That online vitriol mirrored the increasing hostility I was witnessing in Washington, D.C, where I had lived and worked as a journalist for twenty years.

What steps did you take to begin your project?

One night, while on a business trip in Santa Monica, California, I awoke with a vision of a web site, a site dedicated to improving online discourse. The iCivility name arose because the lowercase “i” captured the ethos of the digital age. However, I was working full-time running two non-profits and the site was idle for more than a year. The tragic shooting last month in Arizona, my home state, triggered me to return my focus to the campaign. I began by writing an editorial for the San Jose Mercury News, and then created a Twitter feed (@iCivility) and a Facebook page.

Have there been any obstacles in the development of this project?

The biggest obstacle has been, and remains, time. As an online grassroots network, the hope is that the movement will go viral, and those of shared beliefs will help promote the cause. I fund it all myself, and won’t seek contributions because I don’t want any concerns about perceived bias from funders. But money shouldn’t be an object for a movement designed to thrive in a social media world.

Is there a specific project iCivility is involved in right now?

For now the focus is on spreading the word. I am also in discussions with some editors and publishers about the idea of doing more writing on the subject. I wrote a fairly lengthy research paper on my theory of a “digital hollows,” of the idea that we create information isolation for ourselves through our use of digital technology. I would expand on that writing, and perhaps include profiles of individuals who have accomplished great things while retaining their civility. It’s critical that people understand that civility does not equate with weakness; civility does not equate with lack of principles; and civility does not equate with ineffectiveness.

Why do you think the media and society is starting to take note of this need for civility now?  Why is it important for people to fight this trend of incivility?

The topic of civility pops up whenever there is an egregious example of incivility, but the passion fades quickly. In the United States, it was briefly a topic of conversation when a congressman yelled “You lie!” at the President during an address to Congress, and when town-hall meetings on health care reform broke down into shouting matches. Those are but many examples of how incivility in politics is often a case of politicians channeling the incivility of their own constituents. The incivility itself leads to political gridlock, as compromise becomes equated with weakness.

What resources would you suggest to people with further interest in iCivility and its ideals?

Credit: Patrick Ross

The iCivility web site contains links to some good resources, and I encourage your readers to suggest others I could include.

How can we all takes steps towards fighting incivility right now?

We have to begin by recognizing we all contribute to incivility. Even if you don’t light up the Internet with hateful comments, you are unquestionably limiting your access to information discordant with your own point of view. We all have to limit information flow in an age of massive data, but that limiting process leads to reinforcements of bias and makes us vulnerable to believing misinformation. We need to treat others in a political or social debate in a civil manner, but that is impossible if we demonize in our minds the opposition. We need to work together to solve problems and advance society.

You are also involved in promoting your writing and creative inspiration via another blog, The Artist’s Road.  How do you manage both projects at the same time?  Can you offer suggestions or useful strategies to other Creatives who are also doing the “project juggle?”

Well, first and foremost I’m a husband and father. I also do some writing and consulting to pay the bills, and I’m going back to school to further my writing. So yes, I’m a bit busy! I try to break up projects into tasks with immediate deadlines, short-term deadlines, and longer goals. I’ve learned what times of day I’m creative and when I’m really only good for rote tasks, and I manage my time by that schedule. It also helps that I enjoy everything I’m doing!

Are there any Creative Thinkers that inspire you?

A personal hero of mine is the late folk singer Harry Chapin. It’s been almost thirty years since he passed away, but he dedicated his life to making a difference to others. He promoted the elimination of starvation, and gave half of his earnings to that cause. He used his songs to promote strong values and respect for others. He had a talent for music and poetry, and he applied that talent to something larger than himself. Few people choose that path. My hope is that I can at times live my life with the dedication to others that he lived his life every day.

 

Credit: Patrick Ross

A special thank you to Patrick Ross for his time and effort that went into this interview.  What a creative spirit!  If you have more questions look him up on Twitter @iCivility or contact him through his site iCivility.

 


BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: When you read opinion editorials or hear political discourse, do you really give the “other side” a chance?  The next time you find yourself in such a debate, really sit down and consider the other perspective, maybe you will learn something new!

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