Steven Petrow

Hillsborough resident and award-winning journalist Steven Petrow recently gave a TED Talk on civility, which has now been viewed over half a million times online.

Steven Petrow is among the many that have given Hillsborough its title of “America’s Little Literary Town” by the Wall Street Journal.

Petrow, an award-winning journalist who has written for the Washington Post, New York Times, and Parade, has had a number of career defining moments while living in our town. His newest is his recent TED Talk, given as part of the TED Salon: Doha Debates.

A new venture by TED, these debates aim to unite global ideas by having international speakers talk about issues they believe could unify nations.

Petrow is known for his journalism centered around LGBT issues, his own fight against cancer, and the center of his TED Talk, civility. This last focus is essential to Petrow, which is why he decided to present his TED Talk on the matter, which is available online and has already racked up nearly 700,000 views.

TED Talk, a media organization that provides audiences both online and in person chances to hear different speakers address a range of subjects, has no limit to the creativity of their speakers, and Petrow was no exception.

“In a nutshell, my main theme is that we need to remember the original Latin/French definition of ‘civility,’ which means thinking about being a good citizen rather than thinking about ourselves,” Petrow explained in a recent interview. “This definition of civility is a call to care about our communities,

our nation, and our planet – not as warring tribes but one tribe with a common good.”

In his TED presentation, Petrow provides the listener with three rules to become a better citizen. These rules act as guidelines for living as a civilist and Petrow explains them with examples of how they can be seen in everyday life.

The rules begin with the importance of specific language. Petrow tells the audience that he has “stopped using trigger phrases like homophobe, racist, sexist, misogynist, and xenophobe,” adding that they are “incendiary and provocative, really just another form of name-calling, which does not allow us to find common ground or a common heart.”

Petrow explains the second rule, urging the audience to “challenge policies and positions, but do not question someone’s character,” giving the late Senator John McCain as an example. Petrow noted that when Sen. McCain passed, he often heard “many of his supporters, and even his opponents, note that he had friends on both sides of the aisle because he never resorted to personal attacks.”

The third rule delves into how to spot real civility, explaining that one can never “mistake decorum for civility.” No matter the appearances put on, real civility can’t be missed, both in the US, and abroad, Petrow argues.

During Petrow’s 15 minute presentation, he offers instances in his life when he’s witnessed a complete lack of civility, and other times when he’s seen just how powerful the practice can be.

“My TED Talk is really meant to bridge divides and to help us all become better, if not good citizens,” Petrow explained. “We need that message as much here in Orange County as in Washington D.C.”

More information about Steven Petrow and his works are available on his website,, and his TED Talk is available on their website, at