Civil Discourse: is it dead, dying, or worth the effort to revive it?
If you believe as I do that it is not only possible to revive civil discourse, but imperative that we do so, then you’ve landed on the right blog.
AND, if you aren’t sure, you’re still welcome and I hope you’ll join in the conversation that follows. We may learn something from you.
For isn’t that the essence of civil discourse? That we enter into it with curiosity, a willingness to hear another perspective, and a desire to learn something new.
This is the third in our LEAP FROG series that began with Civil Discourse in the New Age on February 22.
Here we are today with A is for Assess, by which I mean “pause and think.”
I was tempted, in the beginning to use ACKNOWLEDGE for the A. And I’ll explain why in a bit. But ASSESS won out. Here’s why.
At the start of this series, when I linked to my Facebook Timeline, I got a few comments about not being willing to hold a civil discourse with a bully, or with someone using profanity. This is exactly the kind of self-care I’m referring to when I suggest we need, early on, to ASSESS just what we are doing in the conversation. Is it one we want to stay in? What are the red flags we need to pay attention to?
And so, here are three steps you can take at any time — before, at the start, or in the middle — to be certain you are taking care of yourself; to be sure that the conversation you are having is one that will be of service to you and to the other person.
PAUSE THINK ASSESS
Check in with yourself. Take a few breaths if needed; take time, as needed. Remember, silence can be your friend. What are your needs and fears?
Are you aware of assumptions you came in with? Be aware that assumptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. (e.g., if you enter the conversation thinking, “This is going to be a battle,” chances are, it will be.)
Do you feel unequal to the Other in some way? Do you feel superior? Better educated? Intimidated? Pay attention to these. If any of these feel important to you, it may not be the right time to engage.
Do you need to take a break or are you ready to move forward?
The ability to name what is true for you can be powerful.
More on Why I considered using ACKNOWLEDGEMENT as my A word.
Your power lies with your ability to check in with yourself effectively. Remember: the majority of the work in any conflict is with yourself.
As you check in with yourself, can you name what you discover? Here are some examples:
I’m feeling uncomfortable at the direction this conversation is going.
I’m starting to feel defensive here; that’s not going to help.
I’m feeling angry at what you just said. Give me a minute to figure out what I need to do.
These can be helpful in getting the conversation back on track. And really, if they are true, what have you got to lose by putting it out there?
Or, you might discover some more positive reactions on your part. Acknowledge them too. I really like how you phrased that; it helps me better understand your position. I’m enjoying how this is going.
Think about who you talking to. Who are they in their everyday life? Can you see “her” (or “him”) as a child, parent, neighbor, friend, lover (of someone)?
Do you know what they want most? Respect, acknowledgment, attention, power, control, security, independence? Notice the goals you might share.
Hypothesize a bit. Why do they behave the way they do? What values seem to be most important to him/her?
Keep in mind that most people operate out of habit and they can’t change if they don’t know any other way.
Check in with that genuine sense of curiosity you started with at the beginning.
I’ll introduce you to George Lakoff during our FROG posts. If you don’t know his work already, you might want to check it out; it fits nicely here.
Validate the other as best you can. Acknowledge what was said, particularly if you still disagree. Are there common/shared concerns? What assumptions are you holding about the other? How are they different from those at the beginning, if at all? Again, the ability to name what is true for you is vital.
A few examples:
I liked how you phrased this …[and repeat] I can understand how important this is to you. I’m wondering if saying that was as difficult for you as it would have been for me.
3: ASSESS the conversation so far.
Does it feel sincere? Authentic? Have you both let go of the need to be right?
Were there any thwarting ploys? Thwarting ploys are ways, sometimes unconscious, in which a difficult conversation or topic can be, simply, thwarted: diversions, deflections, digressions. We’re all familiar with them I’m sure.
A few examples: stonewalling, lying, threatening, shouting, crying, silence, sarcasm, taking offense, accusations, point a finger. Disarm these by naming them. Acknowledge it. (here it is again; see why I was torn?)
*It feels like you are changing the subject. *Are you threatening me? *I simply don’t believe you. I’d like to check out the veracity of your last statement before we continue. Shall we meet again in a week? *I really dislike sarcasm; it doesn’t serve our purpose here and it feels insincere. Could you rephrase? *I see this has you very upset. I don’t want to lose site of what we were talking about though. Shall we just wait a few minutes or would you like to reschedule?
[A note here on crying: you really needn’t do anything other than sit quietly and let the person know they are seen. You don’t necessarily need to put an end to the tears; that’s not your job. If they need a kleenex, they will ask.]
Understand that there are situations in which it’s best to just walk way.
Here are a few scenarios I refuse to participate in:
- The person wants to convert me. I call this “The evangelist.”
- The person is unable to hold a rational conversation. I call this “The addict.”
- The person is unable to be authentic or sincere. I call this, simply, “WTF is going on?”
Self-care is critical at any time, and particularly during this time of upheaval and uncertainty. Identifying and acknowledging what is true for you, without rancor or sarcasm, is part of that self-care.
How about you? How are you faring as we get further into this hokey little LEAP FROG acronym? Has it been helpful or distracting?
Next week: P is for Present (as in Presenting your side of the issue. FINALLY!)
April: we’ll take a stab at what FROG is all about