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Don't Rush Me


" . . a communication of thoughts and ideas by words, as may serve for the upholding common conversation . . ." John Locke on civil discourse


Is civil discourse a thing of the past?



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April 30, 2014 - It seems the more opportunities we have to connect with each other, the more we separate ourselves. I'm not just talking about interpersonal relationships, either. I'm talking about communal relationships, relationships which help communities navigate societal changes in a productive manner.

Now that was a long-winded way of saying, or asking, "Why are we yelling at each other?"

I think now, more than in anytime in our country's history, Americans of all stripes are entrenched in their own, personal views. How would Don Adams, (aka TV's Maxwell Smart) have said it? "It's the old, 'you're either with me all the way or you're an idiot' trick. Second time it's worked this week."

I met with Waterford resident, author and director of the National Civility Center Kent Roberts about a month ago and he talked about civil discourse. It's his firm belief that this country was founded on civil discourse -- the exchange of ideas, from old ways of thinking to newer ways of thinking. This civil discourse (debate, if you will) helped shape the change which followed. Change, he said, is one of the true constants of our world. Nothing stays the same.

It always changes.

Kent also believes if communities would again start engaging in civil discourse, they could leverage their new-found (old way of doing things) solution generation mechanism for some truly wonderful endeavors. Of course, this can hardly happen today when everybody else is a racist, bigot, greedy (fill in your own favorite adjective).

Despite social media's great potential to discuss and debate, to come up with solutions, the internet has actually shot civility and civil discourse in their proverbial keisters. Come on! Why respectfully agree to disagree with somebody when you can try to embarrass the other guy, whilst making yourself look tough, cool, smart and worldly? The fastest way to shut down civil discourse it to call the other guy a name. Case closed. End of discussion.

Is there any wonder our schools have bully problems? Look at what the "intelligent" and "respectful" adults in our kids' lives are doing. We're wonderful role models, aren't we? (Go look at what you're posting on Facebook and then answer me.)

And, I hate to say it, but some of the worst offenders are my left-leaning, feel-good, so called "liberal" friends. Popular thought would have it that only those who lean right are the meanies. Hold your barbs; the stuff those "nice" left-folk post and say on "social" media is downright mean!

* * *

Right-wing Republicans want to stop change at all costs. They want to live in the 1950s when everything was all right (as long as you were a straight, white dude of Anglo-Saxon persuasion). Left-wing Democrats want change at all costs and as fast as possible to fit the cause or science de jour -- whether or not the cause or science is just or solid.

And never the two shall cross.

God forbid these right and left-wingers would actually (and publicly) cross paths. They might even find common ground, concerns and a language to civilly communicate. All we have now from our "leaders" is demagoguery. And, unfortunately, that's all we want.

We don't want to grow. We don't want to challenge ourselves, nor our so-called leaders. We'd rather be uneducated and believing than educated with a healthy dose of skeptism. Notice, a few lines ago I didn't call the two sides of the spectrum Liberal or Conservative? That was done on purpose, because the terms conservative and liberal have been highjacked. George Washington and the founding fathers were liberal who conservatively went about their business of changing the course of human history, all the while making money.

If change is inevitable, why not be an agent for change? Not change for change's sake, but for constructive change, logical change, loving change. This is where civil discourse comes into play. With civil discourse comes the exCHANGE of ideas. Civil discourse, doesn't necessarily mean "compromise" either (not that well-founded compromise is a bad thing).

In 1690, John Locke said of civil disourse, " . . a communication of thoughts and ideas by words, as may serve for the upholding common conversation and commerce, about the ordinary affairs and conveniences of civil life, in the societies of men, one amongst another."

American psycologist Kenneth Gergen described civil discourse as "the language of dispassionate objectivity." Suggesting it requires respect of participants. "It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences."

That sounds just like today's Facebook conversations doesn't it? That sounds like our leaders locally, in the state and in Washington, DC., don't it? That sounds like our dinner convesations . . . who am I kidding? We are only kidding ourselves.

What are your thoughts (and be civil!)? Email me here, Don@ShermanPublications.org.

Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: don@dontrushmedon.com
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