A question on everyone’s mind these days is “what happened to civility?” And indeed, it’s a very good question. What has happened a time when people, even those who have completely opposite views, talked to one another civilly? Is civility lost and never to return?
Personally, I disagree with people who claim civility is lost. I don’t think it’s lost, but rather, is just missing. And I do believe it’s only temporarily missing and that one day soon, it will return.
How can we help bring civility and courtesy back? Here are just a few ideas on how we can “find” civility again.
When engaging in a debate or just engaging in a conversation, we should be mindful to:
Don’t ask the how and why questions
When we ask another person “How can you possibly believe that?” or “Why don’t you see how wrong you are?” we’re basically telling that person that they’re ignorant or even stupid — we’ve put up a barrier to civility and its unlikely we’ll be able to have a healthy discussion.
Instead of using the “how” and “why” type of question, try asking them “what drew you to that conclusion?” or “What makes you feel that way?” And as important as the way you pose your question, is your intent. If you’re sole purpose is to lull the other person into a false sense that you’re open to listening to his/her ideas, only so you can then attack them, the conversation is going to quickly deteriorate. Have an open mind and a sincere interest in hearing their ideas and if you counter them, be polite about it.
Be informed with balanced facts
One of the biggest causes of political discourse, is the media. Today, the media has caused polarization and quite frankly, is clearly biased. When a news source only presents one side of a story, they’re probably highly partisan and thus, less than credible. If all we watch/read is news that only fits with our political views, are we really getting the full story with accurate facts? Probably not. We all have a political bias to some extent, but only consuming news that bolsters our personal partiality is unhealthy and unhelpful. When having a discussion with someone, whether about politics or world events, it’s important to be equipped with balanced facts and that means relying on more than one source for our information.
Avoid hostile language
Once we start making insults related to the topic or directed at the person you’re speaking with, civility is gone. We need to be less “I HATE him!” or “I LOVE him!” and more balanced. You may think Donald Trump is a terrible president and that’s fine. However, once you start name calling or using inflammatory insults related to looks or intelligence, the other person is mostly likely going to shut-down and what you’ll have is a shouting match and not a healthy conversation. You could try “I know you’re a supporter of the President, but I find him to be very divisive and I want to share why I’ve come to that conclusion………”
Be willing to concede a point
Let’s face it — sometimes, we’re wrong. If we have an open mind and are actually listening to the other person, they may make points that we actually agree with. Intelligent and secure people are able to concede a point and graciously say “Okay, I do see your point and I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms….” And even if we don’t actually agree, we can still be magnanimous and say “I understand your point and I can see why you feel that way, but….”
When one is unable to compromise when warranted, it usually means that person is insecure and incapable of learning new things, even if that new knowledge, despite being contrary to their personal bias, happens to be factual.
Rely on facts
Just because something was “reported” on a blog, doesn’t make it fact. There are a lot of people out there with a website and they may be very politically active, but that doesn’t make them experts or indeed, honest. Facts should be easily verifiable by more than one source and a healthy debate needs to include proven facts. Also, don’t make up stats and facts, because Google is an incredible tool and most people have a smartphone these days, so they’re going to check what you’re saying…it would be quite embarrassing to be called out on a lie. If we present facts, we should be prepared to share our sources, because that lends credibility to our viewpoint.
Look for some common ground
The person you’re having a conversation with may be the complete polar opposite of you, but that’s okay, because that’s the way of the world — and to them, you’re the polar opposite. But, there is always common ground, because things are rarely just black and white. For example, if the other person were to say “this country is a total mess!” you can accept their perspective and perhaps respond “I know it seems that way sometimes, but there is still a lot of good and I believe we can fix things…” and then present your views, allowing the other person to get involved in the debate so they feel a part of the effort to find common ground.
“It’s not our job to play judge and jury, to determine who is worthy of our kindness and who is not. We just need to be kind, unconditionally and without ulterior motive, even – or rather, especially – when we’d prefer not to be.” – Josh Radnor
Always be kind and gracious
Civility is really about common courtesy and kindness. No one likes to be yelled at, belittled or made to feel bad. Let kindness and compassion lead your heart and that includes in debate. You may come away completely disagreeing with the other person, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re valuable and worthy. Treat others as you want to be treated and always part amicably. Try “I don’t think we’re going to agree on this issue, but you did give me a lot to consider and I appreciate that….” and then, change the subject. Being civil to one another is easy and all we have to do is start making the effort again.
It goes without saying that some topics are hotter than others. If a person advocates violence, oppression or discrimination, it’s probably best to hold your ground and not compromise your integrity. However, I still believe one can confront hatred and still be civil about it — and of course by civil I mean calm, yet firm. But will you change that person? Maybe. If you can influence them for the better even to a small degree, you’ve done a good deed. But if the other person is so ingrained in their hatred, avoiding them is perhaps best.
When it comes to having a discussion on common, every day topics, there’s no need to stomp our feet and shout the other person down. We’re all entitled to our opinions and no matter how erroneous we might find those views to be, we just need to make our case and hear their perspective calmly and with mutual civility.
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” ―