How to Take Care of Yourself in This Age of Incivility: LEAP FROG Part 3

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.


Saturday Evening Post, June 28, 1919

This is the third in our LEAP FROG series that began with Civil Discourse in the New Age on February 22.

That was followed with L is for Listen on March 1, and E is for Empathize, on March 15.

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.


thanks to


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.  

[learn_more caption=”More on Why I considered using ACKNOWLEDGEMENT as my A word. “] Here is 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.


[learn_more caption=”2: THINK”]

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.[/learn_more]


[learn_more caption=”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.] [/learn_more]


Understand that there are situations in which it’s best to just walk way.

Here are a few scenarios I refuse to participate in:

  1. The person wants to convert me.  I call this “The evangelist.”
  2. The person is unable to hold a rational conversation. I call this “The addict.”
  3. 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

14 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I say “Look before you leap.” The same would apply to listening. (Lots of the letter L here.) Your word assess seems to include a “willingness to hear another perspective and empathizing too.”

    You remind me that some time ago I wrote a post about listening: This included giving full attention to who else is speaking, avoid interrupting and listening with your face as well as your ears. Above all, don’t tune out what others are saying because you are busy thinking of a comment, something I have read in your posts recently.

    You are making a valiant effort to buck the current impulse to bully and beat up others with opposing viewpoints verbally. I admire that, Janet.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Marian. I love that adage, “look before you leap.” I’ve used it to talk about how I’d always check to see there was water in the “pool” before jumping off that proverbial high dive.

      There is much circling of the wagons this year, certainly. A situation that does not bode well for our country.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet! I like that you suggest ways to engage with others, but also acknowledge that it’s OK–even necessary sometimes for one’s self care–to step back.

    Like Marian, I admire your effort to try to do something positive in the current climate of hate and distrust.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Each week, I come away with the impression that THIS one is the most important. And again, with this one. The ability to step back, to get out, to change your mind is so important before we tackle something like this. Next week there will be links to websites designed to give us all practice. Thanks for adding your voice, Merril.

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I’ve just resubscribed with a different email address, so I’m writing this comment to see if it works. 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Welcome to my gmail world, Merril. Glad to be part of your little experiment.

  4. Sharon Lippincott
    | Reply

    Thank you Janet, for this thought-provoking series. Each post is a gem, and the meaty comment streams prove their success.

    How cool that you include the concept of assessing our feelings of relative status. That generally ignored concept deserves far more attention! I’m convinced everyone does this all the time, especially when we first meet people, and generally without thinking about it. Becoming aware of the tendency is a real eye opener!

    I agree with Merrill about backing off. A wise person told me decades ago that it’s important to decide which battles are worth fighting. I’ve scaled that way back to which people are worth standing up to.

    Which leads me to a point you have not covered that’s part of this picture: People who play “Gottcha!” These people have mastered the art of twisting words to prove their victims don’t know what they’re talking about or really mean something else. When confronted they claim they’re “just playing” or “joking around,” but it’s really their favorite sport, and sometimes has a cruel edge.

    They usually mask their perceptions in seeming civility, so it may take a few rounds to realize what’s going on.

    With the people I know who indulge in this sport, I’ve chosen to disengage early on with a simple, “You may be right,” and walking away if they persist.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh, Sharon, I love that old “you may be right.” Or the noncommittal “mm-hmm.” And the walking away is the most important part, for sure. I’m very glad you picked up on the status assessment; I’d been weighing all week how to include it and only last night added it.

      Choosing your battles, indeed, though I hope we don’t enter into one of these dialogues thinking it’s going to be a battle. Remember the part about checking in with your assumptions or expectations. That too. It’s hard work. You’ve reminded me of one of the quotes I use in my memoir, from Gregory Bateson on the importance of determining “which differences make a difference.”

      Thank you, as always, for stopping by.

  5. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, assess is perfect. Self-care and knowing where you are at helps us engage from a position of strength, not weakness. And for those times I want to throttle the other person or bite my tongue off (yes, these are trying times)…walking away is totally the right option. This series is very well-timed and I appreciate your gargantuan efforts to enlighten and inspire us about the basics of civil discourse. Thank You!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks so much, Kathy. Your “biting my tongue” comment reminded me of my mom’s comment this morning. She’d read the post title as though I’d written an “extra S”. 🙂 Made me laugh, though it took me away from the theme for a bit.

  6. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet – I continue to be glad that you’re taking this on. Every post has had me thinking. It’s certainly a timely topic, and a truly tough one. Never in my lifetime have we needed civil discourse more, yet at the same time, never has it been more difficult to achieve. One issue I’ve struggled with, personally, is that never before have I felt so firmly on the correct side of history as I do in this current struggle. Likewise, never before has it been clearer, to me, what is going on, politically, and why. This of course doesn’t make me “right,” but it does make it harder to be open to listening to opposing viewpoints — particularly those that I find most offensive. And, in truth, it also makes it harder to respect the intelligence and values of other people who disagree with me. Having come from “Trump country,” and having known Trump supporters all my life, this has never been a big problem for me up to now, and I know that I have to guard against this sort of judgmental thinking, but I’d be lying to myself (and you) if I said it wasn’t present on some level. This is indeed a race with many hurdles!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      A race with many hurdles, a work in progress, indeed. And not just us; our country too is still a work in progress. And never in my lifetime have so many people been so focused on seeing it thrive. I’m encouraged by that, Tim. Gratitude helps too. In the weekly Action List that I work from there is usually a list of people to be thanked. Lately they’ve been Republicans who’ve chosen statesmanship over partisanship. I’m grateful to them.

      Thank you for your honesty, Tim. I very much appreciate it. And you.

  7. […] LEAP FROG Part 3: A is for Assess […]

  8. […] International Women’s Day How to Take Care of Yourself in This Age of Incivility: LEAP FROG Part 3 […]

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