Civil Discourse: Why we need it and how to achieve it

David Galchenko, Reporter

Every day in the twenty-first century, an average person meets and interacts with a number of people. As life goes on these interactions only grow, and a need arises for people to deliver their thoughts and words in a mannerly and respectful fashion. This type of civilized conversation is called Civil Discourse: the ability to have a civil conversation in a democratic society. 

Different sources present different choices and ways in how to achieve that civil conversation. Although some differences do occur, there are steps recommended and can be taken to achieve this goal.

One of the major elements of civil discourse is the ability to listen and talk. The National Institute of Civil Discourse says that, “During conversations many of us have a tendency not to truly listen. We may hear their first comments and make assumptions about where the conversation will go, or we may be thinking about how we will counter their points.” Listening creates a bridge between people; it shows that the listener is caring for what the talker is saying, and listening helps see things one might have overlooked or did not see. 

The second major point needed for civil discourse is the ability to talk in a correct way. Charles Koch Institute states, “When discourse becomes fraught as an occasion for verbal tirades, people’s ability to debate important issues breaks down. The interplay of public argument and debate transforms into the tribal warfare of mutually hostile camps who each look to gain every advantage over the other, and the individual and equal rights of all are worryingly brought into question.” Conducting one’s thoughts in a mannerly fashion is key to achieving civil discourse. Consequently, instead of trying to control the speech of others, people need to focus on themselves and how they model the conversation. To do so requires patience, empathy, and confidence in one’s own beliefs. Being confident in your beliefs is crucial, as it provides one with a solid foundation. When an individual is firm on their beliefs, they will not feel threatened by others but will keep an open mind and look for commonalities in the viewpoints. 

Being able to deliver your thoughts and to listen to your companion leads up to the third critical point in civil discourse: common ground. There will always be differences, and so it is important to look at the similarities. When both sides come together with empathy and humility, then it is easier for commonalities to be found, and for a compromise to be reached.