books, articles, videos about civility, dialogue and social conflict (including free resources)

A Topic Section of The New Conversations Initiative
Communication Skills Empowerment Bookstore


Dedicated to Christina Taylor Green, 2001-2011,
and all those killed or wounded in the Tuscon shooting rampage
January 8, 2011.


In his January 2011 address at the memorial for those killed and wounded that month in Tucson, Arizona, President Obama appealed to Americans about the quality of their conversations, saying, “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.”  In a world of self-perpetuating cycles of mutual injury, which are offered to the public around the world as entertainment, Obama is appealing to us to grow to a new level of skill, awareness, and empathy for people who are different from ourselves. Although President Obama was specifically addressing U.S. citizens in his speech, his appeal has relevance for every community on planet Earth that is divided by conflict. This page presents some resources for beginning that journey toward greater skill. It will be a long journey indeed, for our public conversations to become “worthy of those we have lost.” (If you would like to recommend a book or article to be included in this section, please click here and send me a message.)

Dennis Rivers, Editor

Free teaching materials on the topic of civility and conflict resolution

FREE PDF E-BOOK >> Compassionate Listening: An Exploratory Sourcebook About Conflict Transformation (33 pages), by Gene Knudsen Hoffman (1919 – 2010), Leah Green and Cynthia Monroe. Edited and with an introduction by Dennis Rivers.

From the Introduction:  Gene Knudsen Hoffman was a remarkable woman, and this book is a report from the growing edge of a movement she pioneered, nurtured and mentored.  Forms of compassionate listening have been practiced among Quakers and Buddhists for centuries, and among psychotherapists for decades. Gene was both a Quaker peace activist and a pastoral counselor, and she achieved two great things over the last thirty years of her life.  First, she took the practice of compassionate listening out of the quiet environs of the Quaker meeting house, out from behind the closed doors of the therapy session, and on to the stage of the world’s greatest conflicts.  Her many trips to Russia and the Middle East made her a legend in the peacemaking community.  Second, she popularized compassionate listening in a generous way that invites and encourages other people to take up this practice, develop it and apply it in new areas.  This short book is an expression of that generosity.  Available free of charge around the world as an e-book, it includes several of her essays, her lesson plans for Compassionate Listening Workshops, and reports from Leah Green and Cynthia Monroe, two of her co-pioneers and creative colleagues.[DR]


Wikipedia on Civility as Civic Virtue  — includes brief history of the concept. “Civic virtue has historically been taught as a matter of chief concern in nations under republican forms of government, and societies with cities. When final decisions on public matters are made by a monarch, it is the monarch’s virtues which influence those decisions. When a broader class of people become the decision-makers, it is then their virtues which characterize the types of decisions made.”

The Civility Project includes The Civility Pledge (which is open to everyone):

  • I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
  • I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
  • I will stand against incivility when I see it.

Stochastic Terrorism: Triggering the Shooters   by G2geek at DailyKos

Stochastic [randomly inspired] terrorism is understood as having five elements:

  • the systematic use of mass communication such as internet,tv and radio,
  • expressing anger, vilification and violent imagery
  • to stir up mentally/emotionally unstable, random “lone wolves”
  • to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable given the level of stimulation and provocation, but individually unpredictable,
  • leaving the persons or organizations who incited the violence apparently free of any responsibility for it.

Editor’s note: An example of this would be Glenn Beck’s repetition of the phrase “shoot them in the head/shoot me in the head” on his June 9, 2010 television show, which suggests, in a joking and deniable way, that murder is an appropriate expression of frustration or disagreement. Another example is U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann’s request that people be “armed and dangerous” to fight climate-change legislation.  In a global context, the deliberate and continuous vilification of the Tutsis in radio broadcasts to the Hutus played an important role in fomenting the Rwandan mass murders of 1994. The great challenge in developing the idea of stochastic terrorism, and in exposing and denouncing the stochastic terrorists, is that we run the risk of becoming trapped in spirals of endless denunciation.  I suggest that we translate the idea of stochastic terrorism into the idea of “indirect moral responsibility,” and affirm that indirect moral responsibility is a fundamental part of human life.  In public life, we are all responsible for the bad feelings we incite in others, and the good feelings we inspire in them, too. That would lead us toward the practice of what the Buddhists call ” Right Speech ,” and what the communication coach Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, has described at length in his many books as a language of compassion .  [DR]

Evergreen State College Social Contract

Article: Words Matter: How Media Can Build Civility or Destroy It

Keeping your communication cool when the situation gets hot
The Conflict Resolution Emergency Kit

Approaches to Conflict Resolution   —  Ewan W. Anderson
British Medical Journal An overview for aid workers in conflicts that arise in the aftermath of wars and natural disasters.

Standards for Civility Among Wikipedia Editors  as they apply to the thousands of co-editors of the online encyclopedia.

Conducting Track II Peacemaking — By Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess

Published by the U.S. Institute for Peace

In the world of diplomacy and peacemaking, “Track I” usually consists of face to face negotiations focused on one or another pressing, specific issues.  The chronic failures of Track I negotiations to achieve their intended aim have led would-be peacemakers to search for alternatives.  Track II peacemaking is focused on dialogue and trust-building among the conflict participants.  It brings parties together across conflict lines to talk, build relationships, engage in joint civic projects, or even develop new ideas about potential political solutions to the conflict. [DR]

Conflict Resolution Information Service Large online library sponsored by the University of Colorado — 20,000 resources.    

The Conflict Resolution Network ,  New South Wales, Australia

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Overview of Alternative Dispute Resolution (PDF – 71 pages.)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for many giant public works projects in the U.S. that involve rivers, and hence has been involved for two hundred years in trying to find workable compromises among contending parties that include local governments and large businesses.  In addition to the Overview of Alternative Dispute Resolution , the Corps maintains a library of case studies on conflicts resolved.  All of this material in interesting in relation to topic of civility, because it shows evolving processes of respectful disagreement and dialogue in the everyday world of business and government.  While these practices have not yet become the predominant way of handling conflict in modern society, they are well established in specific areas and represent a well of resources and examples from which we all may draw inspiration and instruction. [DR]

Public Conversations Project  (PCP) of the Family Institute of Cambridge, MA

PCP was created when a televised debate on abortion caused Cambridge, MA, family therapist Laura Chasin to question how family therapy practices could improve polarized conversations about abortion and other public issues.

A family therapist and faculty member at the Family Institute of Cambridge, Chasin, with four other professionals, founded PCP in 1989. Since then, PCP has pioneered a distinctive, effective approach to dialogue that shifts communication to enhance understanding, repair relationships, and rebuild trust. Drawing upon mediation, traditional conflict resolution, and consensus building, the organization developed dialogue practices that have been tested throughout the world in conflicts ranging from religion to the environment.  [project info from PCP web site]

The Seven Challenges Workbook A Guide to Cooperative Communication Skills for Success at Home and at Work

Civility is a style of conversation, and conversations weave together many elements of the lives of the participants, especially, awareness, attitudes and skills. Many discussions of civility focus on attitudes.  One way of looking at hostile social interactions is to explore what negotiation skills and strategies, or lack thereof, the participants bring into the conflict situation.  The Seven Challenges Workbook focuses on helping people expand their basic interaction skills.  The 100-page book is available free of charge, and may be copied and reproduced under a Creative Commons copyright license. [DR]

more to be added…

(If you would like to recommend a free resource to be included in this section, please click here and send a message to the Editor.)

DVD:   Beyond Retribution

From:   September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows  

Taped in Oklahoma City on the tenth anniversary of the Murrah Federal Building bombing, “Beyond Retribution” captures a roundtable discussion with those who lost family members as a result of 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the war in Iraq. It is moderated by Father Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest who lost his hands to a letter bomb sent in response to his work against apartheid in South Africa.

Together, they explore the individual responses of those most closely affected by terrorism, violence and war, and offer ways to move beyond retribution and towards sources of real peace. “Beyond Retribution” is 37 minutes in length, comes with a list of discussion questions, and is suitable for any age (no harsh images or language).

You can order the “Beyond Retribution” DVD from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows   by donating online . Here are two clips from the video:


Fr. Michael Lapsley, Director, Institute for Healing of Memories, and moderator of the discussion : “My own journey was from victim, to survivor, to victor. Victor in the sense of becoming a participant once more in coming to shape and create the world.” Father Lapsley lost his hands to a letter bomb received as a result of his anti-apartheid work in South Africa.

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows member Terry Rockefeller reads the group’s first anniversary statement released on 9/11/02.

books on civility and conflict resolution with links to online bookstores around the world


Civility: Manners, Morals and the The Etiquette of Democracy Civility: Manners, Morals and the The Etiquette of Democracy Stephen L. Carter, Yale University Editorial Reviews: “Carter not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith… Stephen L. Carter one of America’s leading public intellectuals.” — New York Times Book Review “Part theology, part ethics, part political science… A thoughtful and provocative book.”– Publishers Weekly “Carter’s passionate plea for the ‘we’ over the ‘me’ is most welcome and constructive… Such honesty is rare from an American scholar today.” — Chicago Tribune  more information & order online 

Rude Democracy Civility and Incivility in American Politics

Susan Herbst

[from the publisher] Democracy is, by its very nature, often rude. But there are limits to how uncivil we should be. In her timely and important book, Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst explores the ways we discuss public policy, how we treat each other as we do, and how we can create a more civil national culture. Herbst uses the examples of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama to illustrate her case. She scrutinizes Palin as both victim and perpetrator of incivility, including close analysis of her speeches on the 2008 campaign trail, the tone at her rallies, and her interactions with her audience. Turning to Barack Obama, Herbst argues that a key 2009 speech reveals much about his own perspective on American civility as it pertains to contentious issues such as abortion, and notes, too, what the controversy surrounding the speech reveals about the nature of public opinion in the United States. She also dissects Palin’s and Obama’s roles in the 2009 health care debate. Finally, in a fascinating chapter, Herbst examines how young people come to form their own attitudes about civility and political argument. In Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst insists that Americans need to recognize the bad tendencies and habits we have developed, use new media for more effective debate, and develop a tougher and more strategic political skin. She urges us to boost both the intelligence and productivity of our debates, noting that the effort demands a commitment to the nature of argument itself. Rude Democracy outlines a plan for moving forward and creating a more civil climate for American politics.   Dr. Susan Herbst is a communications and public policy scholar and is president of the University of Connecticut.

 more information & order online 

Choosing Civility The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct

P. M. Forni

(from the publisher) Most people would agree that thoughtful behavior and common decency are in short supply, or simply forgotten in hurried lives of emails, cellphones, and multi-tasking. In Choosing Civility , P. M. Forni identifies the twenty-five rules that are most essential in connecting effectively and happily with others. In clear, witty, and, well…civilized language, Forni covers topics that include:

* Think Twice Before Asking Favors
* Give Constructive Criticism
* Refrain from Idle Complaints
* Respect Others’ Opinions
* Don’t Shift Responsibility and Blame
* Care for Your Guests
* Accept and Give Praise

Finally, Forni provides examples of how to put each rule into practice and so make life-and the lives of others-more enjoyable, companionable, and rewarding.

Choosing Civility is a simple, practical, perfectly measured, and quietly magical handbook on the lost art of civility and compassion. Dr. Pier Massimo Forni is an award-winning professor of Italian Literature at Johns Hopkins University.

Excerpts from Choosing Civility in PDF format, click title to read:

What is Civility?

Life and relationships

Nice guys finish last — or do they?

Environment and animals

 more information & order online 

Getting to Yes:
Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
(2nd ed.)
by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton.
New York: Penguin Books.  1991.

The authors, members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, have popularized the idea of “win-win” solutions around the world. They propose that by understanding your own long-term interests better and by understanding your bargaining opponent’s long-term interests, you can work toward agreements in which everyone gets more of what they want and need.  These kinds of agreements take more work to create but they are more likely to last than simple “split the difference” compromises.  A great introduction to negotiation with examples from business and politics.  According to John Kenneth Galbraith, “This is by far the best thing I’ve ever read about negotiation. It is equally relevant for the individual who would like to keep his friends, property, and income and the statesman who would like to keep the peace.”

(Price: appx. $13.00.  ISBN: 0140157352. Look for this book at your local library, order from your favorite local bookstore, or click here to find this book in bookstores around the world.)

Getting Past No : Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury.

Excerpt from review: This a must read for anyone that interacts with people. William Ury has written a very practical, easily read, guide and process that anyone can use right from the start. Not just a ‘business guide’, his five step process is easily applied to everyday situations and with practice is a foundation for much larger negotiations. The principles are well defined via a five step process that is demonstrated through examples that are fresh, relevant, understood by common association. Much effort has been made to make this text even more memorable than ‘Getting to Yes.’ Gearing concepts through example gives the reader a sense of self mastery without having to memorize lists. The framework builds upon itself with frequent review of previously introduced terms. From business to interpersonal communication, this book has something for everyone. (Price: appx. $15.00.  ISBN: 0553371312. Look for this book at your local library, order from your favorite local bookstore, or click here to find this book in bookstores around the world.)


Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen & Roger Fisher.

Excerpt from review: We’ve all been there: We know we must confront a coworker, store clerk, or friend about some especially sticky situation–and we know the encounter will be uncomfortable. So we repeatedly mull it over until we can no longer put it off, and then finally stumble through the confrontation. Difficult Conversations offers advice for handling these unpleasant exchanges in a manner that accomplishes their objective and diminishes the possibility that anyone will be needlessly hurt. The authors, associated with Harvard Law School and the Harvard Project on Negotiation, show how such dialogues actually comprise three separate components: the “what happened” conversation (verbalizing what we believe really was said and done), the “feelings” conversation (communicating and acknowledging each party’s emotional impact), and the “identity” conversation (expressing the situation’s underlying personal meaning). (Price: appx. $16/new, $8/used.  ISBN: 014028852X. Look for this book at your local library, order from your favorite local bookstore or click here to find this book in bookstores around the world.)

books from scholars of the Public Dialogue Consortium

(Now available on Amazon, descriptions and global links under construction)


resources on listening…

Are You Really Listening?: Keys to Successful Communication By Paul J. Donoghue, PhD, and Mary E. Siegel, PhD Are You Really Listening?: Keys to Successful Communication By Paul J. Donoghue, PhD, and Mary E. Siegel, PhD.

Listening is an essential skill worth every effort to learn and to master. Listening takes us out of our tendency toward self-absorption and self-protection. It opens us to the world around us and to the persons who matter most to us. When we listen, we learn, we grow, and we are nourished.

Why do we often feel cut off when speaking to the people closest to us? What is it that keeps so many of us from really listening? Practicing psychotherapists, Donoghue and Siegel answer these questions and more in this thoughtful, witty, and helpful look at the reasons why people don’t listen. Filled with vivid examples that clearly demonstrate easy-to-learn listening techniques, Are You Really Listening? is a guide to the secrets and joys of listening and being listened to. [From the publisher, Quest Books] List price new, appx. $16.  ISBN: 0835608263.

order online  

The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction By Rebecca Z. Shafir. The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction By Rebecca Z. Shafir.

What do family members, coworkers, and friends want most but seldom get? Your undivided attention. Poor listening can be a cause of divorce, depression, customer dissatisfaction, low grades, and other ills. This Zen-based, practical guide will help you build relationships, sharpen concentration, create loyal clients, strengthen negotiating skills, hear what others miss, and get them to hear. [From the publisher, Quest Books] List price new, appx. $16.  ISBN: 0835608263.   order online

The Wisdom of Listening Edited by Mark Brady. The Wisdom of Listening  Edited by Mark Brady.

In this thoughtful anthology, eighteen contemporary spiritual teachers explore the transformative effects, and the difficulties, of skillful listening and suggest ways in which becoming a ‘listening warrior’ — someone who listens mindfully wiith focused attention — can improve relationships.  Free of religious dogma and elf help clichés, the essays are inspiring, intelligent and accessible. [from the back cover]  (List price new, appx $17. ISBN: 0861713559)   order online

cover image: sacred art of listening book The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice.  By Kay Lindahl, teacher and writer. A series of personal meditations on what it means to listen with an open heart.  Designed to illumine your spiritual journey, this book provides access to a new way of listening — to Source, to self and to others.     order online

“Learning how to listen to and speak with each other are essential skills for creating relationships that lead to mutual respect, dialogue, understanding, and peace. As I explore a spiritual approach to listening, my understanding of what it actually means to listen continues to expand. Listening encompasses much more than words. Listening is a way of being in the world. These reflections speak from that voice.” —from part 1

Also, see Kay Lindahl’s beautiful web site with a visual meditation on listening in the form of an animated slide show.   order book online

understanding the psychological development of bullies, tyrants and murderers


The Betrayal of the Self:

The Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women by Arno Gruen, PhD order online

Love or power — these are the opposing poles of a choice every child is compelled to make, very early in its life, in a drama that sets it irrevocably on its path through life. This startling new insight into a formative experience fundamental to our development is the subject of Dr. Arno Gruen’s pathbreaking contribution to the psychoanalytic view of the human soul, and what distorts it into pathology.

Look for this book at your local library, or g et m ore info about this book plus purchase links to many countries at Global-Find-A-Book .

(Disclosure:  Dennis Rivers, MA, the editor of this web site, is also the publisher of the English edition of The Betrayal of the Self in the United States and UK, through his firm, Human Development Books of Berkeley, CA.)

The Insanity of Normality: Toward Understanding Human Destructiveness By Arno Gruen, PhD

one of the most insightful books ever written about violence is now available in a paperback reprint of the 1992 edition.

In The Insanity of Normality , the psychoanalyst Arno Gruen challenges the assumption, made popular by Freud in the twentieth century, that humans are born with an innate tendency to destruction and violence.  Gruen argues instead that at the root of evil lies self-hatred, a rage originating in a self-betrayal that begins in childhood, when autonomy is surrendered in exchange for the “love” of those who wield power over us. To share in that subjugating power, we create a false self, a pleasing-to-others image of ourselves that springs from powerful and deep-seated hopes of being loved and fears of being injured and humiliated.

Gruen traces this pattern of over-adaptation and smoldering rebellion through a number of case studies, sociological phenomena – from Nazism to Reaganomics – and literary works. The insanity this attitude produces, unfortunately, goes widely unrecognized precisely because it is the same cold, manipulative “realism” that modern society inculcates into its members. Gruen warns, however, that escape from this pattern lies not simply in rebellion, for the rebel remains emotionally tied to the object of his rebellion, but in the development of a personal autonomy. His elegant and far-reaching conclusion is that while autonomy is not easily attained, its absence proves catastrophic to both individual and society.

“With compassion and conviction Dr. Gruen carefully exposes the undiagnosed and undisclosed insanity unwittingly accepted as normality… This is a text for leaders and followers, for conformists and rebels alike, for members of the healing professions who seek to repair the destructive fallout from our pursuit of normality and for all who strive for a more compassionate and saner social order.” –Montague Ullman, M.D.

Look for this book at your local library, or g et m ore info about this book plus purchase links to many countries at Global-Find-A-Book . (Disclosure:  Dennis Rivers, MA, the editor of this web site, is also the publisher of the English edition of The Insanity of Normality in the United States and UK, through his firm, Human Development Books of Berkeley, CA.)

Preventing Violence — Prospects for Tomorrow , by James Gilligan. (NewYork: Thames and Hudson.  2001.)

In this controversial and compassionate book, the distinguished psychiatrist James Gilligan proposes a radically new way of thinking about violence and how to prevent it. Violence is most often addressed in moral and legal terms: “How evil is this action, and how much punishment does it deserve?”

Unfortunately, this way of thinking, the basis for our legal and political institutions, does nothing to shed light on the causes of violence. Violent criminals have been Gilligan’s teachers, and he has been their student. Prisons are microcosms of the societies in which they exist, and by examining them in detail, we can learn about society as a whole.

Gilligan suggests treating violence as a public health problem. He advocates initiating radical social and economic change to attack the root causes of violence, focusing on those at increased risk of becoming violent, and dealing with those who are already violent as if they were in quarantine rather than in constraint for their punishment and for society’s revenge. The twentieth century was steeped in violence. If we attempt to understand the violence of individuals, we may come to prevent the collective violence that threatens our future far more than all the individual crimes put together.  (Price: appx. $15.00.  ISBN: 039575531X. Look for this book at your local library, or g et m ore info about this book plus purchase links to many countries at Global-Find-A-Book .

Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic by James Gilligan, MD.   order online

Drawing on firsthand experience as a prison psychiatrist, his own family history, and literature, Gilligan unveils the motives of men who commit horrifying crimes, men who will not only kill others but destroy themselves rather than suffer a loss of self-respect. With devastating clarity, Gilligan traces the role that shame plays in the etiology of murder and explains why our present penal system only exacerbates it. Brilliantly argued, harrowing in its portraits of the walking dead, Violence should be read by anyone concerned with this national epidemic and its widespread consequences. “Extraordinary. Gilligan’s recommendations concerning what does work to prevent violence…are extremely convincing…A wise and careful, enormously instructive book.”–Owen Renik, M.D., editor, Psychoanalytic Quarterly Look for this book at your local library, or g et m ore info about this book plus purchase links to many countries at Global-Find-A-Book .

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