How do we hold a civil conversation with someone with whom we fundamentally disagree?
How can we disagree without becoming disagreeable?
However do we begin?
If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months, these are not new questions.
It used to be folks could gather on the bench outside the post office, or around the wood stove at the general store, or even down at the corner bar and engage in their own version of “civil discourse.”
And life was good.
But we don’t have those benches, real or metaphorical, so much anymore. If we do, I’d like to know about them.
You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life)
For the past few weeks, I’ve been busy reading, thinking, talking, and writing about Civil Discourse in preparation for a presentation in early April.
And I thought, How better to chew on it a bit than to present it here, at And So It Goes and see what the ensuing conversation teaches me.
And so it goes.
Let’s start with the basics: a definition of civil discourse. As I use the term,
Civil Discourse is a conversation of moral significance that strives to build understanding.
Let me say this a slightly different way.
Civil discourse is an intentional conversation that focuses on the choices we make and the values that inform those choices. As a conversation that exposes how we live our lives, it can get intimate. Throughout, however, its goal is understanding.
Perhaps that is why these conversations about conflict, disagreements, or differences are so difficult.
Conflict, difference, disagreement, even misunderstanding are the price we pay for being social beings. On a personal level, any one of these can hit us over the head when we least expect it.
They’ve been hitting me over the head on a political level for a few months now.
Let’s back up just a bit. Civil Discourse does NOT
- diminish the other’s self-worth
- question the other’s judgment
- engage in name calling, threats, or bullying
How can we find the dispassionate objectivity
that civil discourse demands?
To answer that, I went back to Cicero. Societas civilis, the civil society, requires speech that supports rather than undermines the societal good.
Speech that supports … the societal good.
In our current political climate, our cultural capacity for sustained and serious debate is low. Anyone watching presidential debates over the past few decades can attest to that — or those Crossfire type news shows where guests are reduced rather quickly to gratuitous ad hominems and “alternate facts.”
Difficult conversations require courage.
They also require empathy and skill.
Like exercising any new muscle group or practicing any new behavior, the more we do it, the easier it becomes. But how do we do it? How do we start? Who goes first? How do we agree on what to talk about?
Preparing for this early-April presentation, I put together a little acronym that I hoped would be of aid for those just starting out in this civil discourse jungle.
But before I explain LEAP FROG in detail, I want to honor the fact that there are cultural as well as individual differences in how we deal with conflict. We need to start there.
So, before we jump into the LEAP FROG model (yes; I did do that on purpose) next week, I hope you’ll give a bit of time to these:
What were the norms in your home growing up around dealing with conflict? Where did your family get their news? What current events were discussed? How were disagreements managed?
What are the rules you adhere to today around disagreements? Who is allowed to disagree with you? What subjects are “off the table” automatically? How must someone behave for you to engage with them in a debate?
Can you tell where I’m going with this?
NEXT WEEK: We’ll LEAP FROG into Civil Discourse