Phillip Thompson is President of the Board and Executive Director of the Idaho Black History Museum. A sixth generation Idahoan, he is also a member of the Boise Police Chief’s Community Advisory Panel and the Board of Directors of CATCH and the Future Public School, as well as former president of the Islamic Center of Boise.
Contrary to the narrative that has been endlessly pushed by those outside of Idaho, we are part of a unique and freakishly successful social experiment. Granted, what I am saying will be examined with a skeptical dose of criticism, be that as it may – this is my truth. Idaho, once the world’s best kept secret, is for the vast majority a refuge insulated from many of the ills that plague society. Not a bastion of white supremacy, but instead home to a disparate, intriguing, unique social fabric with “civility” being the common thread.
The casual observer, thus the vast majority of Americans who have never been to Idaho nor can they locate it on a map, thinks that Idaho is “a state full of Aryans and Klansmen.” Media outlets seemingly feel it is in their interest to propagate this belief and seldom does anyone challenge this assertion…hence what you are reading currently. “Civil” doesn’t quite convey the laid-back, respect for our fellow human, traditional disposition of most Idahoans, but I think it does help the “new to Idaho” folks understand how we tick.
What do we mean when we use the word ‘civil’? According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are multiple meanings. Here are a couple from that resource worth teasing out.
Civil: 1) relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters. 2) courteous and polite.
Idaho is a conundrum wrapped up in a riddle to the outsider. Ideas that seem to be inherently mutually exclusive elsewhere, coexist peacefully inside our borders. Most know that Idaho is overwhelmingly white/traditional, but they neglect to realize Idaho is also home to one of the most successful refugee resettlement destinations in the United States. Civility in the sense of “relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns” is the reason why.
Regardless of one’s background, the ‘Gem State” philosophy of “civic duty” and “community” lends itself to our success. The Idaho way is to help one another regardless of whether or not we agree. We acknowledge our fellow residents’ “humanness” rather than their “otherness.” The Mormon Church has been strongly involved with helping Muslim refugees when they arrive in Idaho. The local Jewish community, along with other Christian churches, has assisted with tutoring, education, and other essential dimensions of refugee resettlement. This is not unique to Boise, either. When I recently went to Twin Falls and spoke with the spokesperson of the mosque there, he had nothing but laudatory things to say about the people of Idaho.
What enables this to happen is the widely held notion of “community” that exists in Idaho. Most feel a sense of “connectedness and concern” with the people of Idaho, but differ on the best way to address a given issue. Vilifying or demonizing an opposing opinion or idea simply because you feel otherwise serves no purpose, nor will it help one to arrive at the best solution. Rather, hearing more voices and collecting more data typically yields better results, whatever the venture. The thing Idahoans do innately in public we also need to keep in mind when dealing with opposing ideas. That is, embracing Oxford’s second definition of civil, to be courteous and polite.