The Law Day theme for 2023 as proclaimed by the American Bar Association is: Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility and Collaboration.

One of the defining benefits making our democracy so successful over the past 240-plus years is that each of us is free to form our opinions and to express them. The fact that we have the freedom to express them does not mean that we should or must always say what those opinions are nor does it mean that we should express them in a hateful way.

Civil public discourse and conversation is the starting point for decent behavior in a democracy and these form the bedrock of self-governance in a democracy based upon that principle. As Founding Father Ben Franklin said: "Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none."

President John F. Kennedy said: "Let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved."

Kentuckian Henry Clay said: "All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness and courtesy." St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:11 states: "Encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you."

The word "civility" derives from an old French and Latin term for "good citizen." Civics, civility and citizenship are related terms and allow us to live respectfully in communities and civility, in particular, serves as the glue that binds our society together. Thoughtful, knowledgeable and respectable people can and often do disagree.

However, different points of view often have something to contribute to a workable solution. We must remain willing to talk with and listen to one another. Otherwise, there are only mutual monologues and no collaboration.

In politics, inconsiderate or nasty speech is not new and, in fact, has existed since the founding of our country. However, in our democracy, we have come a long way since settling disputes by duels with deadly weapons.

While each of us may disagree on a particular point or belief, and each may believe that we have the right (and only) answer, it does not mean that either of us is actually right and it certainly does not mean that one of us is a better person than the other. In fact, if we talked with each other from our different points of view, regardless of which "team jersey" or "political color" we believe in, we may well find that there is actually a better answer to any particular issue or problem.

I do not pretend to have the solution to a more civil tone in our society today, but I believe that whatever the solution is, it begins with each one of us exercising common courtesy and cooperation with our neighbors.

One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People from Dr. Steven Covey is "Seek first to understand then to be understood." Each of us can make an effort to do that in every conversation or situation that we find ourselves in. Our own actions can lead to better listening and cooperation among all those who differ and can help preserve our democracy in the broadest sense. Our democracy was established not as a "winner take all" proposition where a winning majority vanquishes the losing minority to silence and surrender. Our democracy is rather about working together and, particularly in government, working together for the common good, across party lines, without sacrificing anyone's sincerely held principles.

All of us wish to be heard and treated courteously. Most of us learned at an early age or have at least heard of the "Golden Rule": "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Simply treating other people, whether we know them or not, as we want to be treated will continue to keep civics, civility and collaboration as cornerstones of our democracy and will keep our United States of America strong throughout the rest of its history.

On a personal note, I thank everyone in the 56th Judicial Circuit for allowing me to have served as your Circuit Judge.