5 ways to bring civility back into civil discourse

In the past several years, I have watched and noticed how polarized we have become. I originally thought it was just the population of my town. But then I saw this polarization happening in my county, in my state, in my country and eventually across the world. I don’t know where it started, or how it became so prevalent. Quite frankly, knowing that would likely not change the situation anyway. It’s just part of the reality of living in a 24 hour news cycle/instant communication of the most sensationalized information world.
We live in a time of immense polarization.

This polarization is particularly easy to see in the arena of politics. Conservatives and progressives, right and left, Republican and Democrat, Socialist or Capitalist, labels come easy. With the labels come a whole host of other factors that follow our polarized mindset. Our opponents are deceived or misled at best, while we ourselves, and those who fall into a similar category, alone claim enlightened thinking and clarity of perception. Of course, the opposition sees the situation completely differently.

As I said, we live in a time of immense polarization.

I don’t mind polarization, per se. I am glad when I see people becoming passionate about issues, about problems they see and actions that they believe contain solutions. Unfortunately, with the polarization often comes an unwillingness to listen, a complete lack of civility. We tend to behave as if our conviction of opinion allows no room for dialogue and discussion. As a result, labels give way to slurs, and slurs to mudslinging and mudslinging to even more destructive and disruptive behaviors.

As a man of Style and Substance, I have been working very hard to be different in the way that I approach the subject of beliefs and the polarization that can occur. I have found 5 practices that have helped to restore some measure of civility in the dialogue I have had with others. I offer them here for your consideration.

1. Never use a term you wouldn’t use to address your Grandmother. If you are like me, you revere your grandmothers. Even when they were difficult to talk to, maybe even difficult to understand, set in their ways and feisty when encouraged to consider a different point of view, you would still be gentle and respectful. No cross words, no name calling, and certainly no effort to degrade her. She was your Grandma, after all, and whether you win an argument or not, nothing would be worth hurting her. Consider that the next time you are tempted to hurl some pithy quote about someone’s mental stature or their level of intellectual strength.

2. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a parent about their newborn baby?” Is your comment or criticism going to help bring more civility to the conversation? A sure way to tell is to replace the reference to the other individuals opinion or position with the phrase, “your baby.” Do you think that someone could hear you say what you are about to say about their child without being hurt or angry? Then you might be on the right track. If not, then perhaps rethinking the comment is in order.

3. Try this phrase – While I disagree, I genuinely appreciate you sharing your insight. You aren’t agreeing with them. However, you aren’t fighting either. No effort is being made to tear someone else down, nor to convince them of the necessity of changing their current opinion. It is a statement of respectful fact.
4. How about this phrase – What changes would you like to see on a personal or local level? Often we are content talking about big concepts and global situations that we really can’t impact. However, these same ideas have local impacts and consequences as well. Bringing the conversation back to how this might change things locally may bring some perspective to the conversation of what can be changed and what can’t, at least by the two people having the conversation
5. Finally, this phrase might be useful – Have you considered. . . This phrase is not about trying to convince someone to a particular way of thinking. Instead, it is about opening the door to sharing a different perspective. However, it is also far less controversial than starting with phrases like, “I can’t believe how stupid you are,” or some other phrase.
Ultimately, life will be measured by the other lives you and I touch. Whether we touch them in a positive way or a negative way is up to us. And while those touched in a negative way are often more vocal in their opposition and hostility toward us, those we touch in a positive way are likely to remember the touch longer. It’s something to think about. And if you disagree, maybe you can share your thoughts in the comments.
Go forth and conquer!
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