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Dissing of Civil Discourse pt. 3

From Accord3  Blog, organized with Peter Adler

Review Part 1 and Part 2 here

Interestingly, since beginning of this series of posts several months back, the topic of seeking greater respect and civility in our political and social interactions has ratcheted up significantly, even becoming mainstream!

From presidential wannabes to veteran actors going off at award shows, everyone is calling for civility. It may well be that the recent movements are having an impact as well – Black Lives Matter, banning automatic weapons, respect and equality for women. The discourse they are driving – although not always civil – is challenging the norms and pushing for common ground.

The times they are a’changin’. Many universities are focusing their curricula and events on bringing civility back to the important discussions we so badly need today.

The University of Arizona’s National Institute on Civil Discourse aims to “facilitate large scale change in the behavior and ideology of people and systems.” Its stated mission is to “examine the challenges that democracy brings to bear on the search for reasoned political discourse and common ground in our public institutions.”

Roger Williams University in Rhode Island has long been a trailblazer in this field. Their website leads with “we are strong proponents of civil discourse and civic engagement” and the school offers courses, programs and publications directly reflecting this.

Loyola University reports that its long-standing Journal of Civil Discourse has had a significant increase in subscribers over the past two years.

Duquesne University offers a series on Technology, Social Media and Civil Discourse sponsored by the Office of the President “to explore the importance of respectful debate particularly around challenging topics.”

UMass Boston’s Center for Civil Discourse aims at “advancing the voices of reason and civility.”

Even AARP featured a story in its January magazine on “adding civility to your list of New Year’s resolutions” by setting a good example in our personal lives. Talk about mainstream!

President Obama recently put it this way when speaking about hyper-polarization: “you know, change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well . . . listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise based on what we hear.”

This past weekend, my 7-year-old grandson was explaining a Star Wars event to me. I interrupted him to clarify something I thought was important, when he said “Papa, just let me finish what I was going to say and maybe you’ll get it then.”  I sat back and let him go on for another 5 minutes on details and insights I had never thought of.

Young kids get it.  Watch a group running and playing and interacting. Everyone’s yelling and running around but at the same time listening, responding, arguing and laughing, having fun! Kids don’t have the baggage, expectations, social rules, and needy egos that get in the way of easy communication. Sadly, we as adults need re-training.

Winograd & Hais in their article Millennial Makeover state, “The sound bites of ubiquitous tweets, blogs, and online reader comments require no knowledge of the issue at hand; error or disinformation occur with absolutely no consequences.” There need to be consequences to what we say or it’s all just babble.

If we look to our ancient Alchemists again and their Stages of Transformation, the Calcination Stage (things stuck, motion limited) needs to be followed and replaced by the Dissolution Stage when a “true cleansing occurs that frees us from pre-judgments and restrictive mental structures.” These early scientists had it right 600 years ago!

To get to truly civil debate and public discussion of important issues, we need to free ourselves of our egos and approach each other with the respect due to each human being.

Or as my grandson put it, “Just listen for a minute, Papa.”

Would that we all did.


Dick Harris

Dick Harris builds upon an extensive corporate and consulting career in areas of organizational development, performance coaching, and business planning. He currently heads up Dick Harris Associates that focuses on sharpening the performance of teams to increase productivity. Harris also conducts planning and marketing sessions, management retreats, training workshops, and… MORE >

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