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CIVICS, CIVILITY…and COPYING

September 2017Mayor David Bennett as seen in The Hilton Head Sun

“Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.” George Washington penned these words, though he did not author them. In fact, this type of copy work was once a regular technique for teaching various skills and subjects. Using this example (from 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation), Washington surely contemplated the idea while refining his handwriting dexterity. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin became a self-taught writer by copying works he admired and then jumbling and reworking the prose to develop his talents of expression. And finally, great artists often discover the dimensions of their own talents by first copying works of the famous masters they appreciate. Could the practices of civics, civility and the maintaining of a peaceful and productive civilization be likewise learned by copying?

Let’s hope so, because if this premise is true, we may together seek to turn the tide from the style of rhetoric that currently crowds our newspapers, networks and neighborhoods  — turn it from anger, conflict and destructive talk and actions, and toward a renaissance of civility — by both copying and being copied. Opportunities in our community, for young and old alike, reveal this hope. The Hilton Head Island - Bluffton Chamber of Commerce’s Junior Leadership Program, the Mayor’s Youth Volunteer Service Awards and other programs promoted by our Island schools, churches and for-profit and not-for-profit organizations apply this technique in diverse ways. Every Islander should be grateful to those who have initiated these opportunities. And we all should do our part to restore civility and an understanding of civic responsibility by modeling, teaching, and defending it wherever it is possible to do so.

Another such opportunity is Student Government Day, available to Hilton Head Islanders in the 6th through 10th grades who want to learn the roles and responsibilities of our Town Government and actually perform them. Town staff and Council set aside a full day for students to experience exactly what it is like to actively participate in the governance of our Island. On Student Government Day, civic-minded students, who have been chosen by applications submitted to the Town Council’s Community Services Committee, will campaign for office or interview for key staff positions. They will understand what citizens experience when a Town action directly affects their lives as they themselves prepare to speak out about it. Timely and relevant topics will be identified, (last year it was food trucks and mandatory recycling). Then they will be discussed and drafted, using  the resources at Town Hall, ultimately making their way to debate and decision on the dais at a mock Town Council meeting. Participants will engage with staff and Town Councilors in sessions that allow them to ask questions, state their opinions and vote. This is a perfect opportunity for the next generation to practice civics and civility, by both challenging and being challenged.

What can you do? Encourage any eligible students in your own sphere of influence to apply for the distinction of 2017 Student Government Day participant. Persuade educators to speak to their students about the opportunity. The deadline for applications is Tuesday, September 12, and more information, including the application, may be found at the Town’s Website under the Government/Town Council tab. (http://www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov/government/studentgovt/home.cfm)

And finally, mark your calendar for Tuesday, November 7, to attend the mock Town Council meeting and see what the future has in store — how our young leaders can learn to copy the old masters, our founding fathers, our present leaders and others who shaped our nation, and how they can model civility.