So how do we achieve more civility in public discourse?
In their essay The Meaning of Civility, Guy and Heidi Burgess, co-directors of the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium, offer these suggestions:
Separate the people from the problem. Recognize that other thoughtful and caring
people have very different views on how best to address their community’s many
complex problems. Focus on solutions that are most likely to be successful. Avoid
resolving disputes on the basis of “us versus them” animosity and seek the
relative merits of competing problem-solving strategies.
• Obtain the facts. Many public policy disputes involve factual disagreements that
are amenable to resolution through some type of fact-finding process. Work
together to resolve factual disagreements wherever possible. There are, of course,
many cases in which factual issues can’t be resolved because of irreducible
uncertainties associated with the limits of scientific inquiry. When this is true,
contending parties need to publicly explain the reasoning behind their differing
interpretations of the factual information that is available.
• Limit interpersonal misunderstandings. Make an honest and continuing effort to
understand the views and reasoning of your opponents.
• Use fair processes. Genuinely solicit and consider public input. Make decisions
on the basis of substantive arguments.
• Keep trying to persuade and allow yourself to be persuaded. One crucial element
of civility is the recognition by conflicting parties that it is possible they are
wrong and the policies advocated by their opponents are actually better. Seriously
consider the persuasive arguments made by your opponents and explain your own
• Another strategy suggested by Tom Terez in Civility At Work: 20 Ways to Build a
Kinder Workplace is to “identify the biggest redeeming quality of that person
who’s always driving you crazy. Keep it in mind the next time the two of you
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