Civility institute 'overwhelmed' by those wanting to help

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - The director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse spoke to a group of southern Arizonans Thursday, to offer a progress update on the newly-formed organization.

Dr. Brinton Milward was the featured guest speaker at the Arizona Senior Academy, an active adult community, in Vail. He told the group of about 40 people that, in its first few months of existence, the Institute has already been overwhelmed with people and organizations wanting to get involved.

"It's overwhelming in a good way," Dr. Milward said.

So far, the Institute has established a working board of members, mostly Arizonans, to get things organized. A national board has also been assembled, including prominent members like former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

"(The former Presidents) are both extremely concerned about the nature of uncivil discourse in our country," Dr. Milward said. "There's no reason we shouldn't disagree tremendously about ideas and the direction the country is going, but there's no reason to vilify individuals and demonize them."

As for its first community events, the Institute is hoping to host an Arizona Convening Conference in late August, for various local organizations to come together around this issue.

Then in September, the national board will meet for an executive session in Washington, D.C.

Further ahead in early 2012, the Institute plans a two-day conference in Tucson, packed with guest speakers and panel discussions.

Those listening to this progress update on Thursday expressed hopes that the effort will lead to real change in political dialogue.

"Of course you can't have expectations that all of a sudden, everyone's going to love each other, because there's legitimate differences that people have," Dr. Henry Koffler said. "But I think you can deal with disagreements in a civil manner."

"It's so gratifying to see so much good coming out of this already," said Carla Nelson, who also attended. "I think there's been a groundswell of people who want to see this kind of change, but until something mobilizes the public sentiment in a more powerful way, and then somebody steps in with the tools to make it happen, it often just remains a wish instead of an action."

Besides national involvement, about 50 University of Arizona faculty and students are also participating in the effort. The Institute is funded through a variety of private donations.

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