As we noted in our last post, political parties and citizens alike remain deeply divided on what might be done to reduce gun violence. There is however growing support for reducing that violence. Doing so will require more substantive and civil dialogue that is sustained over time.
In February we were selected by the National Institute for Civil Discourse to write an essay on how to navigate this difficult dialogue. A review of why dialogue on this issue is so difficult can be found in our last post. Below are some of our recommendations on how to plan for dialogue on gun violence.
- At its base level “civility” means communicating in ways that reflect mutual respect, care and concern, and that support joint action and effort. Leaders can model communication patterns that respect rather than attack those with whom they disagree. Leaders can also demonstrate an understanding of (or make an effort to understand) views that differ from their own. What we need is less partisanship and more listening and reflection. You can read more about the dangers of extreme partisanship and the role of civility in navigating difficult policy issues here.
- Those seeking dialogue need to frame issues in ways that invite and allow the underlying fears, distrust, and differences in values, information and experience that derail most discussions on gun violence to be addressed. This means starting at a level other than positional debate on, or evaluation of, specific policy proposals.
- Transparency regarding information development and evaluation is another key element in building trust in a dialogue process. Although dialogue participants need access to clear, consistent, understandable and honest data, they also need to be invited to discuss what makes data understandable and honest.
- When dialogue is difficult, leaders need to allow the necessary time and space for reflection and also provide participants with choices on how and when to engage as they proceed to work through the issue.
- Starting dialogues on gun violence at the local and regional levels around questions that reflect a common concern – such as “how do we want our communities to be?” — can also help to mitigate fear and distrust and set a good foundation for a broader national dialogue.
- Leaders can further promote civil discourse by using “stories of wisdom.” These are narratives that emphasize the common good, accept the fact that differences exist, and reflect the hope that a path forward will be found. Stories of wisdom help dialogue participants to navigate differences in experience, interests, values, and information.
You can download our complete essay, “Aim Higher, Dig Deeper” as a pdf here. This essay was prepared for and with funding by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, as part of a collection of essays on supporting a national conversation about gun violence. The collection has also been posted on the NICD blog.