Leadership Spotlight

Have We Lost Civility?

Stock image of business leaders working together.


Civility has been defined as “formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.”1 Have we become so consumed with our opinions and positions that we have lost it? I have posed this question in many discussions at the FBI National Academy and different law enforcement retreats. The resounding answer is yes. Therefore, the next question we should consider is, Does this challenge and complicate our ability to lead in our organizations today?

A few years ago in discussions regarding the new generation in policing, many comments centered on the theme “high sense of entitlement.” Yet, the discussion on civility does not focus on today’s generation but on society in general. Have the different generations agreed that they are right and are not open to others’ opinions?

Today’s leaders face the challenge of building consensus. Given the polarizing views we have, how can we build consensus when we are so far apart? Complicating this discussion is the opportunity for others to post dissenting opinions and comments on social media sites, which are cloaked in the shield of anonymity.

People often describe insanity as doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different result. With that in mind, we must surround ourselves with others who have differing views and approaches while addressing adaptive challenges and trying to implement a technical response. How difficult has this become based on where we are today?

As I thought about these questions, I remembered the story “Two Wolves.” An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”2

We must have faith in our ability to work with others to build consensus and find new solutions to today’s challenges. The opinions of others do matter. Former FBI Director James Comey answered a similar question about the disconnect law enforcement appears to have with some segments in society. He responded, “It’s hard to hate up close.”3

Kenneth Kilbride, a retired lieutenant with the Plantation, Florida, Police Department and current instructor in the Executive Programs Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at kkilbride@fbi.gov.


1 Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “civility,” accessed October 23, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/civility.
2 “Native American Legends: Two Wolves,” First People, accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html.
3 Trymaine Lee, “FBI Director Calls Out ‘Hard Truths’ About Race and Policing,” MSNBC, February 12, 2015, accessed November 15, 2017, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/fbi-director-james-comey-race-policing.