Tag Archives: civil discourse

How Do Patriots Speak?

Patriot – “One who loves his country and zealously guards its welfare.” Webster’s Concise Dictionary of the English Language, 1997

On this July 4 we look back at Resolution 108, passed by the American Bar Association, in 2011. The ABA warned then that  “political discourse continues to spiral to unprecedented levels of acrimony and venom”, and that “orderly debate all too often is giving way to invective, distortion and gamesmanship”.  Six years later the tension and heat in many quarters have only increased.

Why should we care? As the report behind the resolution points out, a toxic political discourse leaves citizens frustrated, disillusioned, and angry; the problems of our society go unsolved; the rule of law is threatened, and some turn to violence.

If we care about the health and future of our country, then we need to focus on how we talk with each other – as individuals, as political parties, and government and citizens.  Three things we can do, especially as individuals and citizens:

  • Ask Questions.  The questions to ask are open-ended ones, not the sarcastic “Why are you so stupid?’ or “Who knew you were so dumb?” questions often used to shut down others.  Open ended questions sound like “I’m curious as to why you would say that, can you tell me more?”, “What information are you relying on?”, “What do you fear would happen and why?” These questions invite further dialogue if sincerely asked and the answers received with some level of respect for the speaker. Sometimes the best questions to open-up the conversation are simply definitional – “how do you define ‘being an American?'” “what do you mean by “conservative”/”liberal”?”  Other times a question that simply focuses forward  can change the conversation, for example, “What would you like to see happen over time? Why?”
  • Speak-Up for Civility And Model It Yourself.  We don’t support bullies in schools and we shouldn’t in our public life either.  Bullies often back down if someone standing by is willing to call them out. What if more of us were willing to speak up and also to vote against bullying behavior even by those politicians with whom we agree?  Or if we actually rewarded efforts at more informed and civil discourse at the polls?  We can also plant the seeds for more civic discourse in our conversations with friends and family by speaking up and responding to hateful or bullying speech. Simple phrases like “that kind of speech is not helpful”,  “if we can’t speak civilly I will leave”, or “I love you and have experiences that give me a different perspective, which I hope some day we can share”, may not immediately change the speaker, although they can change the course of the conversation over time. Speaking up often will encourage others present to respond in constructive ways as well.
  • Learn and Use “Stories of Wisdom.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “Hate doesn’t drive out hate. Only love can do that.”  Much of our political discourse is hateful. Recognize those patterns and avoid responding in kind.  Stories of wisdom offer an alternative pattern, one that can help you to both acknowledge the underlying concerns that affect us all and re-frame divisive arguments.

How does a patriot talk about the problems that face our country?  With care, with compassion, with a willingness to learn, and with the hope that if we listen to each other and work together we can heal our divides and improve our future.

ABA Mediation Week 2013 – Closing Thoughts

Over this last week we have looked at  how a commitment to civility and more widespread use of the communication tools that mediators use can make a difference in our national politics.  During the US government shut-down, it was reported (NYT 10/101/13)  that Bruce Josten, a lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce, was making the rounds advising Democrats and Republicans alike that

The name calling, blame gaming – using slurs like jihadists, terrorist, cowards, that kind of language – it does not get you to a deal . . .

As ABA Resolution 108 warned, that kind of language appeals to and inflames personal hates and resentments, promotes division, and leads to stalemates.  We can change. By using stories of wisdom that emphasize our interdependence and other mediation techniques in our personal and public conversations we can begin to heal some of the partisan divides and work through the complex issues that affect our future together.  In his remarks to the nation, the president quoted our pledge of allegiance “One nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.  Is it possible? We can certainly do better.

Ongoing progress requires not just vigilance in changing destructive patterns of communication, it will require ongoing commitment to the rule of law.  Writing in his recent book “American Lawyers“, Paul D. Carrington observed

The law is really the main thread in the fabric of organized society.  It is the compulsory part of the rules men have arrived at for living together.  There is dignity and pride in dealing with the law.  Our great public buildings, capitols, and courts, are designed to express that dignity.  They are the homes of government and law. And government itself is law.

This country’s lawyers and dispute resolution professionals are uniquely equipped to help us find a way forward – resolving problems rather than simply quarreling with periodic respites over the same issues.

Commit to leading wherever you can, with civility, and with the rule of law as your foundation.

ABA Mediation Week 2013 – Event Today

Sarah, who is an active member of the ABA, is pleased to again co-sponsor a mediation week event with the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri’s School of Law, and the Association of Missouri Mediators.  Both of these organizations have long been involved in “bridging differences in positions, perspectives and people through mediation”, which is the focus of this year’s mediation week.  This event will also be streamed on-line.

We also welcome the end of the government shut-down.  With that experience behind us we can always hope that we will move towards a political culture with less brinksmanship, name-calling, misinformation, and shortsightedness.  In addition to reviewing ABA Resolution 108, we would recommend two of William Ury’s books – Getting Past No, and The Power of A Positive No –  to all who would like to improve the ways we work through difficult issues.  All of us, citizens and elected leaders alike, can work to make our politics more effective.

ABA Mediation Week 2013 – Additional Resources

The ABA has a number of resources to help families, businesses and other organizations think about how to effectively resolve disputes through mediation.  Many of these are available through the Mediation Week Toolkit.   If you are a party thinking about mediation or a mediator working with parties, you will find the downloadable mediation guides  useful.  In addition to the general guide there are guides for family mediation, and complex mediation.  The ABA has also prepared a resource to help businesses plan for early dispute resolution.   Another great resource for parties to a dispute – including parents battling over custody, feuding partners, and disputing neighbors –  is the “difficult conversation preparation worksheet” and instructions created and shared by Triad Consulting on their website.  We urge you to review, use, and share these resources!

ABA Mediation Week 2013 – Looking Back At Resolution 108

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.

Planning For Civil Discourse About Gun Violence

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.