How do people catch civility? As I explored the research for the book Restoring Civility, this was a major question. One thing is clear: It is not academic. It’s odd when you think about it. Have you ever seen a course at any level of education, about civility? (Although, it might be a good idea, at some level.)

If someone did teach civility, how would they go about it? How would they structure the experience? I thought about this for a long time because I wanted to include a practical approach in the book.

Then it occurred to me, if civility—a lifestyle of respect—is caught more than taught, what advice could I give? This was really important to me. Why? I didn’t just want to write a good book. I really want to help people fight this awful plague of sarcasm, disrespect, criticism, judgementalism—and all the rest—that is tearing our nation apart. Not just our nation: families, companies, churches, spouses, our government.

“We have to have a plan, an approach, a strategy,” I thought. I didn’t want to do all that research, take all that time, writing and editing about something that is just a good idea. How do we get a plan that works and is doable for anyone.

Then it occurred to me: Jesus is the model. It worked. In fact, it has worked for twenty centuries. It is workable—for anybody. It is easy to replicate. Anyone can do it. It costs nothing—but time and effort. When I got that clarity, I added to the title of the book, Lessons from the Master.

Whether you are a sold-out follower of Jesus, or a skeptic, this makes sense. And there’s lots of truth that this is successful. So how would I help you replicate a plan that works?

First of all, you have to know, it’s not simply head knowledge. It’s more relational than academic. It’s more caught than taught. The key element is NOT a class or a curriculum. Civility begins with a person who demonstrates respect already. Then it is caught. It rubs off.

So, if I was invited to introduce civility to a class of university students, I’d get the academic nuggets out of the way in a hurry: “Civility” means “respect.” When people are respectful they are “civilians.” “Civilians” are people who are “civilized.” When they lose respect, they become less civilized, or “uncivilized.” Civility is related to “polite.” “Polite” is the root word for politics.

America fought a Civil War. The civil issue was disrespectful treatment of slaves. Of human beings. We won that war, but some are still fighting the civility battle—sadly. Now, in this era in which we live, we are battling a “second civil war.” We are not killing each other with guns (most of the time!), but most often with words, attitudes, and behavior. The nation is at risk, just like it was when there was slavery. We are deeply divided, just like during the first Civil War.

That’s the academic stuff. At this point, if I was speaking to the university students, I’d leave the academic details and allow the group to catch civility from me. I would do what Jesus did. I would tell stories. Stories are powerful. I’d tell stories from my own life. I would share lessons from my own life experiences. I’d make it clear: I am still on a journey—and always will be. I have not always been respectful as I am today. And, I totally expect that in a year from now, I will have grown more respectful.

Then, I’d tell the class that the most important point of catching civility is this: I would say that if we had months together, I’d invite them to hang out with me like Jesus did with His disciples. We’d go to places and help people. They’d watch and catch it. Then I’d let them demonstrate it. We would then debrief. In that process, people would catch what can’t be, simply, academically taught.

So, live your life. Focus on civility. Invite people on the journey. Change the world, one person at a time. Save the nation!