In 2011, the American Bar Association passed its Resolution 108, affirming civility as a foundation for democracy and the rule of law. The accompanying report warned that the increasing levels of “acrimony and venom” and “polarizing diatribe” in our political discourse endangered the quality of governmental decision-making and left “citizens frustrated, disillusioned, and reluctant to participate in democratic governance.”
And here we are, starting ABA Mediation Week 2013, in the midst of a shutdown of the federal government. And this is accompanied by the fear of a possible default on our national debt. Will reason and statesmanship prevail over distrust, misinformation and power-based gamesmanship? We can hope that it will, and we can also each individually resolve to act to improve our national politics in the year to come by practicing and promoting the skills needed for more civil discourse.
Mediators and facilitators are well equipped to teach the tools that can help citizens actively question the information they receive; identify and focus on common interests; reaffirm and apply commonly held values; and change the patterns of communication that lead to debate rather than productive dialogue.
In the words of the report accompanying ABA Resolution 108,
“Words matter. How we treat each other matters. In our public discourse, it is time to begin talking to each other with mutual respect, no matter how much we disagree.”
If enough of us commit to this principle, work to understand both those with whom we may not agree and the complexity of the issues before us, and demand that our elected officials do the same, we may be able to fix what is broken in our current system.