Core Standards Turning the Tide to Civility

February 2018 Insight Core Standards resource header

February 2018 Insight coverBY: SHANE JOHNSON, JD, CAE

Consider today’s political landscape. Respect, civility and empathy have left the scene, replaced by tribalism. This is where we live today.

Suppose a group of organizations banded together to turn the tide locally, despite CNN vs. Fox News barking in the background. Could it be done? Should it be done and could it succeed?

Let’s set the stage.

Often, REALTOR® associations are the largest professional organization in an area, with assets that can be brought to bear like no other. Many, like Cape Fear REALTORS® (CFR), have members representing every political stripe, without any viewpoint being a clear majority. NAR Core Standards encourage such engagement, yet partisan politics sideline many associations.

Strengthening the REALTORS® voice in the community involves risk. Imagine you have been sitting at the same cafeteria table for a year with four people. The other three speak frequently during meals, but you rarely chime in. Without warning one day, you begin to speak and express your opinion—and continue to do so from that point forward. How do the others react? Some may welcome the comments. Others, however, may not like the impact of a more active voice in the conversation, and wish you’d be quiet.

It is easy to talk about being courageous, or trumpet about how we protect the rights of homeowners, but action comes with a price. Members focused on home sales may not be aware that the transaction isn’t that simple anymore. The industry is under attack daily and the best way to maintain relevance is growing the REALTOR® public presence—while speaking with a unified voice in the community dialogue. We don’t want to be toast while other groups eat REALTOR® pancakes for breakfast, with a side of homeowner syrup.

In 2014, CFR’s directors took bold action by creating a five-pronged outreach initiative in response to Core Standards. One of the initiatives, The Public Square©, involved creation of a national forum to place REALTORS® at the center of the community conversation. It looked good on paper. It took four years to realize.

During that time frame, public discourse nose dived with the advent of Clinton vs. Trump, which created the ongoing flood of media sensationalism.

“We stopped watching the news,” said Wilmington REALTOR® Tom Gale. “It seems each station has either taken a right or left viewpoint, with the center missing.” This trend, coupled with NAR requirements, prodded CFR to focus efforts on rebuilding the center—the middle of the conversation where most middle-income folks live—through The Public Square© forum.

By this time, influential community partners had signed onto the forum as Civic Advisors, including UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli and Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) President Amanda Lee, along with Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. The volatile subject, “To Drill or Not to Drill?” was selected, as coastal drilling would dramatically impact real estate along the coast. International experts, Jacques Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister were contracted as presenters. The Wilson Center was donated by CFCC, and tickets were offered through its box office for $10.

“Several remarkable things happened with The Public Square©,” said Civic Advisor Gale. “Beyond having a sold-out auditorium of 1,557 seats, both political parties promoted the event, and when protesters showed up, we gave them tickets, without a single outburst during the event. That’s civility!”

The event stands as the largest event in the association’s 95-year history. A sold-out audience, dozens of earned media pieces and a social media explosion provide proof of the both the success and lasting impact. In addition, the event attracted a wider bandwidth of membership than CFR past activities.

“Going in, we knew there were groups strongly opposed to coastal drilling, and others strongly supporting it,” said Gale, one of the forum’s originators. “It was difficult to get a balanced view of the pros and cons, thus we selected it as the topic so people could become educated on both sides of the issue. REALTORS® often act as an information gateway for people coming to the region, thus it is important for them to be informed on critical issues. Forums like this also help us all formulate better public policy and cultivate respect.”

“Beyond all the other positives, this event resulted in a substantial boost to the REALTOR® brand and voice in the region, which is one of the end goals of Core Standards,” said Gale. Succeed we did, and CFR is already planning the next Public Square© event, later this year.

Shane Johnson, JD, CAE is Chief Operating Officer for Cape Fear REALTORS® and serves as the staff lead for Public Square©. For more information, contact him at 910-762-1695 or

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