I have spent a significant amount of time in my life teaching students social skills. And I myself have learned a lot in the process. One thing we as humans can have a very hard time with, is holding ourselves accountable for how our words and actions affect others. I see this everyday when I am talking with my teenagers about their tone, or the hurtful words they use. I often find that the tone I use, or the words I choose are the very same ones I am demanding they forgo. I must force myself to take a step back, and see the importance of holding myself to the same standard I hold them to, because modeling is the best way to teach civil discourse or any other positive value you want other people to emulate, and sometimes being a good role model can take a bit of honest soul-searching. We need leaders now, more than ever, to set the standard by example, for words have no meaning if they are not demonstrated through action.
In nearly every conversation I have with folks, I hear frustration regarding the lack of civility in today’s political landscape; that it’s hard to know what to even believe anymore with all the defensive finger pointing and posturing going on. I absolutely agree. I have been surprised by the nastiness coming from some of my fellow Minnesotans. This is contrary to my typical experience. My community is filled with people that don’t ask your political views before offering help when you need it. My community rallies behind families that suffer tragedies and hardships, and participates in any number of fundraisers for various teams and organizations that are vital to the social network of our society. At election time it is especially important to remember this. To remember that we are stronger together, and even if we don’t share the same views on some issues, we do share common values. As I heard my grandma say often, “There’s no need to be an asshole.” And as hard as it can be to refrain from the snarky comments and nasty rhetoric, it’s worth it. It can be difficult to keep a cool head when discussing a heated topic, but respectful dialogues are the key to reaching mutual understanding. A civil discourse is a conversation in which there is a mutual airing of views without rancor. It is not a contest, but is intended to promote greater understanding. Engage in meaningful debate that increases your own understanding of others’ viewpoints. Try to understand where others are coming from. There is strength in having a flexible mind that can take in new information and then adjust your understanding!