A group of friends gathered over coffee and muffins. The conversation turned to a political hot topic that exploded over the weekend. The tension in the room rose immediately, knowing there were opposing views. Many thought to themselves, “Is this wise? Should we be talking about this? What if someone gets upset? What will happen if I offer up my opinion? Will I be judged? Will this fracture our friendships?” Instead, the group allowed civil debate. No one yelled or threw names around. Each view was heard. It was honest, open, and a bit startling. There was grudging acceptance of conflicting beliefs. The friends concluded that this type of raw communication is vital in order to heal our nation’s brokenness. We must all come to the table with honorable intentions.
But how do we do that? In this fractured Twitter/Facebook-enabled world in which we coexist, it is easy to upchuck vile words with the tap of our fingers. We immediately shut down other viewpoints with an ugly phrase or hateful name-calling. It’s safe to live in our own little world, convincing ourselves we are right and the other side is wrong. With arms crossed, we block anything that doesn’t fit into our own definition of certainty.
What if we upend it all? What if we decide to tune out all the electronic sonic buzz? What if we all decided to have hard and often delicate conversations with open minds and open hearts?
According to the American Bar Association, “One of the hallmarks of a democracy is its citizens' willingness to express, defend, and perhaps reexamine their own opinions, while being respectful of the views of others.” In order to do this constructively, the ABA offers certain rules that must be honored by the group:
1. Show respect for opposing viewpoints.
2. Do not monopolize the discussion. Allow others to talk.
3. Direct comments to the group, not to individuals.
4. No name-calling, bullying, or shouting is allowed.
5. Do not interrupt.
6. Remember to listen and really hear what others are saying.
The School of Thought International requests that everyone contributing to debate adhere to “The Rather Nice Rules of Civil Conversation.” A few of their rules include:
1. I will try to reach a shared understanding rather than ‘win the argument’.
2. I shall endeavor to not commit logical fallacies in support of my claims.
3. I promise to remain genuinely receptive to changing my mind if presented with compelling arguments or evidence.
4. I promise to try and see the merit in what people are saying.
5. I will seek to clarify that I understand their point of view.
A few personal additions:
1. Be aware of your own body language. Nonverbal communication speaks volumes. How are you sitting? Are you crossing your arms? Have you rolled your eyes at a comment? Think about what you are communicating through facial expressions, gestures, and posture.
2. Do not attempt this type of discussion if alcohol is involved. Nothing productive will come of it.
3. Do your research. Read credible sources. Do not begin if you do not know the facts. Be an informed citizen of this country and of the world.
None of this is easy. We will trip over missteps and cracks in the sidewalk on our way to understanding, but the journey will be worth all the bruises obtained along the way. Let’s open our minds and our hearts, and begin to see what brings us together instead of what breaks us apart.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” - Albert Einstein
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” - Marie Curie
“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” -John Steinbeck
“Ground Rules for Ensuring a Civil Conversation.” American Bar Association. americanbar.org. 2017.
“The Rather Nice Rules of Civil Conversation.” The School of Thought International.. 2017.