The level of discontent in this country has visibly risen. Discourse has been reduced to extremes and name calling. Regardless of your political position, this trend is troubling and highly unproductive.
People do differ mightily on issues somewhat peacefully—just as long as they avoid personalizing the discussion. With the insertion of the simple word “you” followed by a negative statement, useful talk abruptly ends. The discussion has moved away from the issue and now to the person and, as they used to say in the Old West, “them’s fightin’ words”.
It is short-sighted to think this practice of negative exchange is simply rhetoric and we will get over it. It has become the way we deal with each other. Today’s insulting discourse is now a habit. Unfortunately, history has taught us that, when there is not an opportunity for productive dialogue, people often turn to violence as an outlet of their frustration.
Are we hopelessly in a negative spiral towards a violent deadlock over the issues that divide us? Not if we learn another way to engage with each other. We learned to be nasty; we can re-learn to be respectful.
There are three elements needed to move us into position to resolve the issues facing us: civility, common good and curiosity.
Civility – What you say and how you say it does matter.
“Political correctness” is currently under attack. There seems to be a sense that we should not be compelled to be respectful, spare another’s feelings, or be gracious. Somehow, this ability to be well-mannered has become a lesser skill to being boorish – which really seems to take no skill at all.
If we want people to listen to us, to hear our thoughts and ideas, we must present those ideas in a way that can be heard. We must revive the art of dialogue. Dialogue is an intentional conversation, a space of civility and equality, where people who differ can speak and listen together. At Claremont Lincoln, we believe that dialogue is an essential skill for all change-makers, so much so that we have made it a part of our core curriculum, The Claremont Core™.
To have productive civil discourse, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- While we need not agree, we must listen to understand. Make open ended comments like “tell me more” or “help me understand” rather than arguing. In dialogue, there is no winner.
- Create an empty space for resolution, rather than choosing an already-crafted resolution. Together, build a solution – that way, no one has to “give in”.
- Allow yourself to wonder – “what if” is a inclusive and permissive statement. Relax your grip on certainty; think about what is possible.
If you want to learn more about dialogue, Scott London wrote an article on its power, stating:
The trouble with much of what passes for communication today is that it’s all crosstalk. It’s a din, not a dialogue. We fire salvos of information across the Internet, or shoot each other text messages, or blog or Twitter about ourselves. But is anyone paying attention? And if they are, do they catch our drift?
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Common good – It cannot be all about “you.”
Self-interest has become the norm. I want what I want and too bad for everyone else. This is the path to fascism. As a society, we are dependent on each other. Ethics – the right thing to do – must become the norm, with the common good as the prevailing focus if we are to thrive.
If we work together, we can maximize our shared resources. If we divide ourselves and hoard what we believe to be “ours,” we will perish in scarcity, unable to address the problems that need attention – education, jobs, natural resources, and our role in the world. We cannot survive alone.
So what can we do to refocus on common good?
- Look at things with a view to abundance. Think in terms of “and” not “or”; ideas are a renewable resource and we can find ways that will result in mutual gain.
- Consider other perspectives – step back, consider how others might view things. Can you authentically articulate their points of view?
- Think of the second and third level consequences of self-interest. In a long-term view, what are the implications of given actions? Who might be harmed?
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Curiosity – There are so many good ideas out there.
Lastly, to help resolve crucial societal issues, one must be willing to be curious.
Fundamentalism—that view that concludes that “I” possess the truth, the one right answer—leads to inertia. Because when one “knows” or when one believes they have that one right answer, at that moment, one stops thinking.
Because our problems today are complex, there is never a single right answer. In fact, there is seldom an answer. We need many different perspectives to understand how we might resolve our difficult issues. We need to be curious about the possibilities, not stuck in the status quo.
“What else could we do” is much more fertile than “I have the answer.” It is a much more inclusive statement and, therefore, more likely to lead to collaboration and mutual benefit.
Curious people are:
- Willing to challenge their assumptions and imagine a different reality.
- Not unsettled by uncertainty and find joy and wonder in not knowing the answers to everything.
- Mobilized by change as an opportunity to try new things.
Forbes also emphasized curiosity as a crucial quality for leaders to “enable their companies to navigate complexity and be future-ready.”
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All three of these elements of respectful engagement—civility, the common good, and curiosity—draw from the Golden Rule: to treat someone as you would like to be treated. We all want to be spoken to in a way that suggests we have value. We want our needs to be considered as important. We want our ideas to be heard and found to have merit. It may appear that there is no other way to engage than our current habit, but we can change how we interact. We can work our way out of this funk by:
- Getting past arguing – listen don’t talk; it is amazing what you can learn. There is always time to make your point.
- Putting our feet in someone else’s shoes – what is another point of view. No need to agree just understand another person’s perspective.
- Looking for the next right answer – relax into the joy of not knowing and explore options.
Creating a society based on the Golden Rule is one of the Core Values at Claremont Lincoln University and is integral to our mission to lead positive social change. We teach our students these three elements of the Golden Rule every day through the Claremont Core™, our Core curriculum. In fact, a previous student even wrote about what the Claremont Core taught him.
Thus, we truly believe that, in embracing the Golden Rule and its three c’s of civility, common good, and curiosity, we can all work towards a society of purposeful engagement.
Now, over to you.
How often do you practice civility, the common good, and curiosity? How can we collective create a society based on these facets of the Golden Rule? What are some ways you do that today?
Tell us in the comments!
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