Finding Civil Discourse In This Age of Incivility: LEAP FROG, Part 8

This is my ninth  post on civil discourse, and there will be a tenth next week, wrapping it all up. Today, we’re finishing our LEAP FROG acronym with the G.


I had this post written a few weeks ago.  G was going to be for GOALS, for remembering the goals we began with. I even found this great little meme:

Thanks to Hazinah Kutty Mammi at for this image.

I wanted to end with GOALS because I thought I had begun there too.

I would harken you back to the original (GOOD) goals of civil discourse:

to learn, to understand, to grow

And I would recall for you the (BAD) goals:

to convert, to convince, to win

I had even made a quick reference to that other acronym we’ve all been taught, that a “good goal” is a S M A R T goal:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound

And I toyed with the idea of a five-part series around that.

Then, I remembered that most of my activism of late has revolved around Jennifer Hofmann’s Gratitude List, part of  her weekly Action Lists.

[learn_more caption=”Suggestions for Thank Yous for the week of April 2″]

• Thank Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) for publicly supporting Nunes’ recusal. Address: Rep. Walter Jones, 2333 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515

• Thank ExxonMobil for encouraging the US to stay in the Paris Agreement. Address: ExxonMobil Corporate Headquarters, 5959 Las Colinas Boulevard, Irving, TX, 75039-2298

• Thank Rep Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) for filing a resolution of inquiry to release 45’s tax returns. Address: 367 Valley Brook Ave, Lyndhurst, NJ 07071

• Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) believes in healthcare more than extreme ideologies. Applaud his decision to step down from the Freedom Caucus. Address: 1801 Kingwood Drive, Suite 240, Kingwood, TX 77339

• Thank Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) for putting women above politics by supporting clinics with Title X funding. – Sen. Murkowski, 510 L Street, Suite 600, Anchorage, AK 99501 – Sen. Collins, One Canal Plaza, Suite 802, Portland, ME 04101 [/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Thank Yous for  the week of April 9 “] • Thank Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) for his clarity, humor, and trolling tweets that make the point. Address: 5055 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 310, Los Angeles, CA 90036

• Thank Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for his 15-hour filibuster to protest Gorsuch. Address: 121 SW Salmon St., Ste. 1400, Portland, OR 97204

• Thank Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for his public reprimand of 45 for ignoring the Constitution and taking military action without Congressional approval. Address: 1029 State Street, Bowling Green, KY 42101

• Thank Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) for speaking out against our bombing of Syria. Address: 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Rm. 5-104; Honolulu, HI 96850

• Thank Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for defending constitutionally-protected free speech. Address: 1355 Market Street. Suite 900, San Francisco, CA 94103 [/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Thank Yous for the week of April 16″] • Thank Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Mike Lee (R-UT) for defending Americans’ constitutional right to free speech. Address: (CG) 354 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 Address: (ML) 361A Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

• Thank Rep. Maxine Waters for her inspiring leadership and for speaking up for democracy. Address: 10124 S Broadway #1, Los Angeles, CA 90003

• Thank Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) for supporting food assistance to Sudan and opposing Trump’s foreign aid cuts. Address: (BC) Dirksen Senate Office Building, SD-425, Washington, DC 20510 Address: (CC) 127A Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 [/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Thank You suggestions for the week of April 23″] • Thank Nancy Pelosi for publicly encouraging 45 to release his taxes. Address: 233 Cannon H.O.B., Washington, DC 20515

• Thank NY mayor, Bill de Blasio, for tweeting his own taxes to show 45 how it’s done. Address: Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Hall, New York, NY 10007

• Thank Rep Stephanie Murphy (R-FL) for joining the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus and her sane approach to leadership. Address: 1237 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515 [/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Thank You suggestions for the week of April 30″] • Thank Justice Sonia Sotomayor for her dissent statement about a failure to apply the law evenly and the disturbing trend of using the “waistband excuse” to justify excessive use of force. Address: SCOTUS, 1 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20543

• Thank Chief Justice Roberts for raising concern about 45’s abuse of power in seeking to strip naturalized citizens of their legal citizenship for trivial matters. Immigrants matter. Address: SCOTUS, 1 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20543

• Thank Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for his leadership and integrity in calling attention to Scott Pruitt’s apparent violation of the Hatch Act. Address: 170 Westminster St # 1100, Providence, RI 02903

• Thank Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) for speaking out in support for the rule of law and against 45’s anti-immigrant agenda. Immigrants’ rights are human rights. Address: 90 State House Square, Hartford, CT 06103 [/learn_more]

Yes. There is much to be thankful for. So, I am starting anew.


The rest of this post will focus on WHY gratitude is important, rather than on HOW to express it, or even WHERE (or WHAT or WHEN either).  Simply, expressing gratitude, in and of itself, is good for you.

Forbes Magazine had a headlined article that caught  my eye, How To Rewire Your Brain For Happiness, in March, 2015.  Alas, it is no longer available online, so I can’t quote from it. Still, if Forbes headlined it, ….

Instead, I found Dr. Melanie Greenberg in Psychology Today who wrote How Gratitude Leads to a Happier Life, also in 2015, which sounded just as good.

Even better, I found a few quotes from an earlier piece she did on gratitude, which you can link to here.

Gratitude is an emotion of connectedness, which reminds us we are part of a larger universe with all living things.

Gratitude can lead to feelings of love, appreciation, generosity, and compassion, which further open our hearts and help rewire our brains to fire in more positive ways.

An emotion of connectedness!  Connection became a large part of our conversation following last week’s post (O is for Observing, where I asked, “How do you know you’re being heard?”).

But I was also taken with her comment about the rewiring of our brains. I won’t get into the science. If you care to, here are some good links:

Rewiring the Brain for Happiness: The Neuroscience of Happiness by Kevin Corcoran (2015)

Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, a study by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (2003).

Emmons has a more recent book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier which reports, “Scientifically speaking, regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent.” Not just happiness, but better sleep and more energy (which are directly connected, it seems to me) can result in only three weeks of keeping a gratitude journal.  

I’ve been a gratitude junkie for many years and have experienced its power to change how I approach problems, how I interpret them, and how I solve them. And so, as you might expect, I’ve applied this “attitude of gratitude” to our new political reality.

In addition to the targeting Thank You postcards that Jen suggested, I recognize how grateful I am to live in a country where we can hold  critical, even divisive disagreements; where political disagreement is not only allowed or tolerated, but celebrated.

Closer to home, I recognize that when we discover someone who is able to hold a civil conversation with us about policies and even values on which we disagree, we are fortunate indeed. If you have found someone who will engage with you in a civil discourse, I hope you will thank them; it is a gift.

I’m grateful for the enormous uptick in political activism we have seen. Not only are contributions up across a huge swath of organizations with a wide range of missions important to me, I’m traveling more and meeting new people that I would not have met otherwise, all the direct result of November’s surprising election returns.

I’m grateful to see an increase in basic understanding of how our system works, an understanding that can only lead the steps needed to improve it. I’m thinking of the electoral college, redistricting Congressional districts (aka gerrymandering), the crazy-making rules that currently exist within the Congress, and the way in which money has tainted the political process from the ground on up.

There is much to be done to move our country forward and there will be even more by the time the midterm elections roll around a year from now. But there now exists the energy and the will to accomplish much.  I have hope.  And for that I am also grateful.

How about you? What are you grateful for these days? 

Thanks to for this image of the Melody Beattie quote.

Next week: We’ll wrap up this series on civil discourse.

In two weeks I’ll introduce a group of international women. Some of them are personal friends that I see often here in Vermont. A few of them are new to me, having only met them recently through social media. And one you’ve met in my memoir, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe. They all have one very special thing in common, which we will be discussing over the next few weeks.


[box] Interested in reading At Home on the Kazakh Steppe? I hope so.

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14 Responses

  1. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet.
    I sitting at the table with my coffee–and you can imagine it. That is one thing I’m grateful for, having had the opportunity to meet you and the “Chincoteague Gang.” 🙂
    Of course, I’m grateful for family, friends, and people who are supportive of my writing. But like you, I’m also grateful that there has been an uptick in civil engagement. Though I’m not happy about the reason(s) for it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Isn’t it great to find gratitude in what is right in front of you! That is actually my definition of happiness. Thanks for starting us off, Merril.

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    For the past 37 years, when either Len or I wakes up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, we nudge the other one and whisper, “Let’s do our gratitudes.” The one who was awake first starts with the letter A and we each name something (person, place, thing, event, or opportunity) we’re grateful for that starts with the letter A. Then we move to B, and so forth, until we’ve completed the alphabet. By the time we’ve finished, both of us are sleepy enough to get back to sleep, and we’ve been reminded of our many blessings.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m guessing that “sleep” is mentioned often when you get to the Ss, yes? That’s one special man you have there, Laurie. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Hi Janet, I’m finally weighing in! Gratitude is my favorite state of being. I think it was Cicero who said, “Gratitude is the mother of all virtues.” It facilitates a focus on positive thinking, awareness of what you have not what you don’t have and civility. Among many things, I am grateful that we live n a country that still maintains some semblance of “checks and balances” , although it feels frustratingly slow at times. Somehow, I feel, it will all come out in the wash. Thanks for this series. It reminds me to be more mindful of how I interact with those who think differently.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Kathy, I’m so pleased that you added the Cicero quote here. It bookends this series nicely, since I began with a Cicero quote. Something about civil discourse being the means to “the good society.”

      I love your phrase, “mindful of how I interact with those who think differently.” I shall keep that in mind myself. Thanks for stopping in.

  4. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, I agree that gratitude is important, and it’s frankly something I’ve struggled with at times, despite much good fortune. Perhaps gratitude can indeed come into play in the sort of dialogue we’re discussing here — i.e., an attitude of gratefulness for the opportunity to engage with another human being and to learn something about another viewpoint, even (perhaps especially?) one that we don’t understand or appreciate much. Perhaps everything is an opportunity to learn and grow in our understanding of the world if we view it as such. ‘Looking forward to the “wrap up” next week :). – T

  5. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Gratitude is a necessity, especially when one is feeling down. One of the things I’m most grateful for are friends like you, Janet.

  6. […] Finding Civil Discourse In This Age of Incivility: LEAP FROG, Part 8 […]

  7. Terri Lyon
    | Reply

    I’m grateful for the people who are using their strengths in unique ways to make a difference in the world. In Tennessee, a Buddhist Monk is building a peace pagoda on top of a mountain in hopes of abolishing nuclear weapons. An art professor teaches about racism by creating a gallery of portraits in which the face is the same but the hair, skin and eye color, and clothing change. They inspire me.

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