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National Decency Day 2024

May 14, 2024


The fact that we need a day to remind us to be decent is a sad commentary about the world in which we live. Dictionary.com defines “common decency” as “moral or ethical behavior that is guided by fairness, empathy, propriety, justice, etc.” National Decency Day is the brainchild of Lisa Cholnoky, a New York City-based parent and graphic designer. Distressed by the rising incivility she saw in public discourse, Cholnoky was determined to make a difference by trying to address the divisive environment she saw in politics, social media, and in the news. Her first modest effort, in 2017, was to design a “decency button,” which she wore every day. In July of that year, she mailed a decency button to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. In September, her movement was recognized on the floor of House and Representatives and members were encouraged “to reach across the aisle with civility and serve as role models for us all.” Obviously, the message has been ignored by many of our elected leaders. Undeterred, Cholnoky established National Decency Day in 2019. She continues to foster the good fight.


Fortunately, Cholnoky is not alone in the fight. Steven C. Roach, a Professor of International Relations at the University of South Florida, also has concerns about the lack of decency being shown in politics. He believes it is a global challenge. The introduction to his book entitled Decency and Difference states, “Decency remains one of the most prevalent yet least understood terms in today’s political discourse. In evoking respect, kindness, courage, integrity, reason, and tolerance, it has long expressed an unquestioned duty and belief in promoting and protecting the dignity of all persons. Today this unquestioned belief is in crisis.” National Decency Day is an effort to address the crisis. The best way to help is by being a good example. Cholnoky insists, “If we can all be civil with one another, we are setting the right example.” Another individual who has joined the good fight is LeRoy Harris, the City of New Ulm Programming & Technology Services Librarian. He writes, “There are three key principles, ABC for short, to decency according to Cholnosky. They are Active Listening, Better Understanding, and Compassion. It would benefit us all to be a bit more kind, grateful, humble, and inquisitive. There’s a children’s rhyme that goes, ‘I want to be kind to everyone, for that is right, you see. So I say to myself, remember this. Kindness begins with me.'”[1]


Harris continues, “If you’re looking to be an example of decency, an anchor of sanity, or even looking to improve your own ability to disengage from the rhetoric and reengage with respect, here are three books … that go with each of Cholnosky’s principles of decency. [First,] The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron offers some great step-by-step exercises on how to improve your skills at listening for understanding, awareness, and making connections with others. Organized into weekly lessons, this book guides the reader through meditations and activities designed to help you get outside your own thoughts and really hear the people and the world around you. [Second,] Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations that Work by psychologist Tania Israel presents practical conversational tools to facilitate real communication and understanding by developing empathy, avoiding self-righteous thinking, managing emotions, and more. While framed around the contentious issue of politics, the lessons in this book are applicable in many more situations. [Finally,] Deep Kindness: a Revolutionary Guide for the Way We Think, Talk, and Act in Kindness by Houston Kraft explores the way we define and express kindness in ourselves and others. Using a multitude of examples and anecdotes, Kraft illustrates how we can utilize kindness more frequently and fully in our lives.”[1]


Cholnosky’s Decency website notes, “We started the movement with a goal to encourage decency in our conversations and actions, by launching local movements that grow nationally. The Decency button was designed as an expression of the one key element that was missing in our country. It became a daily reminder to treat people with respect and kindness. We know that at the root of understanding each other starts with a commitment to decency. Whether in our local or national discourse, reminding each other of the importance of civil discussion and shared purpose — no matter our differences of opinion — is a fundamental right that each of us can contribute to. Let’s bring Decency back. It’s not asking that much.”


The Holiday Calendar website suggests five ways you can celebrate National Decency Day. If it’s too late this year, plan celebrations for next year — but embrace acting kindly starting today. The suggestions are:


1. Write a letter. “Write a letter to a local newspaper or other public forum expressing your opinion on what decency means to you. It could be a personal story, or an opinion you hold on a certain issue.”


2. Volunteer for a cause. “Volunteer with a local charity or organization that works to promote decency in the community. Showing up and helping out is an excellent way to express your commitment to decency.”


3. Create a Decency Day. “Organize a Decency Day in your community. Work with local partners to put together an event that celebrates decency and promotes its importance in society.”


4. Donate to a cause. “Find an organization that works to uphold decency and make a donation in honor of National Decency Day. Even a small donation can make a big difference.” In fact, why not donate to Cholnosky’s organization at https://www.decency.today/give.


5. Spread the word. “Share your thoughts and beliefs on decency with friends, family, and colleagues. Start conversations about what decency means to different people and how we can all strive for it.” You can also go online and purchase Decency buttons and stickers from Cholnosky’s organization at https://www.decency.today/give that you can pass out to friends and family.


Journalist Gary Drevitch observes, “Decency doesn’t seek greatness; it isn’t goal- or outcome-oriented. Being decent means not being bigger than life; it marks behavior that is not outsized, but rather just right, humble, aware of its limitations. Decency is an inner moral compass, projecting ‘the right thing to do’ as born from an intrinsic motivation. It is not fair, in a sense of the golden rule of treating others the way you would want them to treat you. Decency means being fair even and especially when there is no competition in play, no power to be accumulated, no greatness to be achieved. Decency means obeying the truth whereas fairness simply assures that each side has an equal chance to win.”[2] Some people may see such behavior as unimaginative or boring. Which motivated Drevitch to ask, “Does decency set the bar too low? In these turbulent times, are these really the qualities we seek in leaders? How does decency serve us as we face extreme polarization? Does it not rather require taking a stance that does not ‘fit’? How do we reconcile skepticism, or even rebellion, with decency?” His answer is, “In these cases, decency is not appropriate, and yet it is fitting — a greater purpose, an elevated sense of justice that transcends the reality we are confronted with every day, at the workplace and beyond. If we see it that way — and we should — decency is not our common ground, it is our higher plane.” Let’s all strive for that higher plane.


[1] LeRoy Harris, “A Sense of Decency.”
[2] Gary Drevitch, “The Power of Decency,” Psychology Today, 14 November 2020.

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