I offer these tips for civil discourse better late than never. But whether you’re political or not, these commandments will help you lower the heat on conversations with people who don’t share your views.
They don’t always work though.
Recently at our men’s breakfast, I decided to lead a discussion on how to restore a sense of community and had intentionally invited two new friends who were on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Not ten minutes into the conversation, one stated his opinion that we had lost our history and cited as an example the tearing down of confederate statues. The other man stood up, stiffened up and said, “Just so you know, I totally disagree!” and stormed out.
They don’t always work.
Civil Discourse is Possible
By the way, have you heard of the IDW? It’s the Intellectual Dark Web, a group of opposite thinkers who choose to have a conversation online without the usual rancor, hate-mongering and character assassination. Imagine, a place where Orthodox Jews and atheists come together – not to agree – but to disagree, with no verbal bloodshed.
So here are my ten commandments that might help us all just get along…
You Shall Not Post on Facebook
Go ahead, post on Facebook your hopes and dreams, pictures of your kids and grandkids, memes that you like; go ahead, ask for help, ask for answers, ask for referrals, ask for friendship, but if you post an opinion on a “controversial” issue, you’re just asking for trouble.
I speak from experience. Thinking I could start a sensible discussion on matters of culture, faith or politics, I have often started a firestorm that smolders long after.
The thing about Facebook or any other kind of social media, is that it only uses verbal communication, and according to the experts, 93% of communication is non-verbal.
You Shall Be Open-Minded
Too many of us come to a discussion as to a fight, armed to the hilt and bent on winning. We don’t stop to consider that the words waged against us may not be bullets, but rather truth bombs. They may inform us rather than injure us, if we pry open our minds.
I don’t suggest that we lay our core beliefs aside, but that we leave room for other ideas that may be compatible with them.
You Shall Listen – Really Listen
This is often called “active” listening. It’s what we do when we have asked a question and anxiously wait for the answer; it’s what we do when there is the sound of thunder in the distance and we stop to listen; it’s the laying aside of our next defense in order to understand a person’s case.
Really listening is listening for something rather than listening to someone.
You Shall Not Look Away
I learned the importance of eye contact from a lady who entered my office on a very busy day. She started talking and noticed I was distracted, looking down at my computer and beyond her into the street. She stopped me with the words, “When you are with someone, be all there.”
I try to always remember that.
You Shall Not Raise Your Voice
As a young parent, I fell into the trap of thinking that my authority was directly tied to the tone of my voice. That worked until our kids were about 6 years old. I soon discovered that the opposite is true. The louder I spoke, the less they listened.
True for adults too.
You Shall Not Be a Mind-Reader
One of the most difficult relationships I ever had was with a man who would tell me what I was thinking. Amazing, right? If I gave an opinion, he would immediately jump from what I said to why I said it. Worse, he usually assumed I was out to destroy his character.
Stick with the “What,” and leave the “Why” to God.
You Shall Not Use Labels
Welcome to “identity politics.” This label applies. We can’t help ourselves from using one word to package a person. It’s easier than having an intelligent discussion and unwrapping them.
There are a handful of labels tossed around daily: Right Wing, Left Wing, Never-Trumper, Trumpite, fear-monger, hate-monger, Nazi (that used to be off limits, but not now). Then there are the old standbys: stupid, dumb, jerk. And many more that I can’t repeat.
Here’s an idea: have a conversation, and choose words that describe the principles not the person. “Thoughtful, interesting, stimulating, difficult, complicated.” Come to think of it, these would be better labels too.
You Shall Not Say, “Never” or “Always”
I used to always do this (well, not always), mostly at home, describing something my wife did or didn’t do. Of course, it was never true! Just remember, there are only a few things that always happen (like the sunrise) or never happen, (like compromise in Congress).
You Shall Say, “I’m Sorry”
This is a lesson I learned when I got married (see above) and had children. I never dreamed that Dad could mess up more often than his kids. After all, they had an excuse. “They’re just kids.” So, I ended up teaching by example with the words, “I’m sorry.”
Over and over again.
When you have broken any of the commandments above, make your lips move to form the three most healing words in the English language. And do better next time.
You Shall Practice the Golden Rule
This is brilliant in its simplicity. The idea is that you treat others the way you would want to be treated. Make this the rule rather than the exception and you will transform your discourse.
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