As the election season begins to get into full swing in anticipation of the upcoming mid-term in November, the polarized nature of today’s political and social environment makes this an important time to remind community association directors and unit owners of the importance of the need for civility and respect in their interactions with their neighbors. These times, when yard signs supporting candidates and social causes/organizations have led to skirmishes and hostilities in connection with past elections, make this an ideal moment to remind stakeholders in communities of the efforts that can be deployed to promote civility among neighbors.
While we are often reminded about the importance of preserving our individuality, it is also vital to remain tolerant of others’ individuality. This concept is even more relevant within community association living – in which many individuals with different points of view, ideals and opinions are required to coexist with each other in a relatively small area, and also to share in the use and upkeep of common facilities. Communities in which owners display high levels of volatility and intolerance may be considered undesirable places to live, where discord may stand in the way of progress.
At the other end of the spectrum, some communities choose to avoid conflicts in situations that could result in the stagnation of progress or in the deterioration of the fabric of the community, possibly even resulting in declining property values.
In light of the potential for adverse results that may arise due to community conflicts, unit owners as well as directors and managers should focus on efforts to advance the objectives of their community while remaining tolerant of differing opinions, approaches and points of view.
A recent Community Associations Institute (CAI) blog article discussed how the strains of the pandemic and other issues have led to an unwillingness to listen to and tolerate differing viewpoints, which has fostered an increasingly unhealthy environment in communities. The author interviewed several experts in psychology and sociology, who advised association directors to start by insisting upon a baseline of civil and respectful behavior.
In the article, Don Forsyth, a professor of social psychology at the University of Richmond in Virginia, recommends developing a focus on shared goals to help repair damaged and fragile relationships. He believes that building an identity and a sense of purpose for the community will create unity “faster than anything else,” and he urges community associations to avoid discussing controversial political and social issues.
Instead, “they should stick with practical matters pertaining to the community. Leaders also should acknowledge the physical isolation as well as loss of civility and neighborly atmosphere experienced during the pandemic.”
David G. Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College in Michigan, is also quoted emphasizing the importance of revisiting what makes the community association unique or special, such as its history, architecture, or amenities, and he suggests creating a community logo or posting photos on a website to build that sense of “us.” Increasing communication with members and scheduling fun events such as fundraisers or contests are also recommended to build cohesion and community harmony.
The CAI post refers readers to the organization’s “Civility Pledge,” which is very helpful for community associations directors and managers to plan and begin implementing efforts to build and maintain community civility, harmony and mutual respect. Boards of directors should use it as a framework to lead their communities through conversations about difficult and complex issues, resulting in decisions that are informed and well balanced. To learn more and adopt the pledge in your community, watch the video above and visit www.caionline.org/civilitypledge.
By adopting an approach to embrace tolerance of opposing views and compromise, community associations may advance their initiatives and gain the benefit of the intellectual capital possessed by their collective membership.