What is Civil Discourse?

Civil discourse is a conversation meant to enhance understanding. Maintaining respect during civil discourse is key to its success! According to Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, former Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse,

“Civility does not mean appeasement or avoiding important differences. It means listening and talking about those differences with respect.”

The original definition of the Latin and French term civility is, “citizens willing to give of themselves for the greater good…for the good of the city.” Civility offers a neutral foundation upon which to build a strong and lasting structure of discourse. While civility does require some politeness, it is not synonymous with compromise. In civil discourse, you can remain strong in your position on an issue, while also attentively listening to the opposition and even using points from the other side to build your argument. It’s not about immediately accepting or rejecting your adversary, but directly confronting their points and addressing why they may be flawed, or in some cases, why they hold ground. Following this format is where the magic happens!

Journalist Steve Petrow’s calls this “the joy of civility”. Steve asks,

“What is the good we forego–not just the trouble we avoid–when we choose to be uncivil?”

While we recognize that it takes a lot of impulse control, practicing civility has major benefits to the success of a dynamic and diverse discussion. By being civil, we are offering the environment for these types of discussions to take place, and as a result, everyone benefits from the major realizations that can occur within such a conversation.

In debate, all topics are approached with civility. Maintaining the rules of civility is an exciting opportunity to learn about varying sides of an issue without feeling the need to defend yourself and your self-image. Practicing civil discourse in a debate is the surest way to have a successful game. The best part about debate is that everyone knows you were assigned your side and did not choose it, so you can be as convincing as possible even if it is something you might not personally believe!

How to Maintain Civility

It is very important to create a welcoming environment for differing opinions in order to maintain civility. Make sure to give your undivided attention, actively listening, being mindful of rude or disrespectful facial expressions, and moderate your tone so that you don’t sound aggressive. 

When discussing an issue, practice objectivity to create a sound argument that is compelling and persuasive, based on facts rather than feelings and/or opinions. Personal attacks are not allowed in debate, as it distracts from the issues being discussed. 

Are there times in your life where you made a conscious decision to be civil in a moment where you could have been hostile, close-minded, or opinionated? What did that situation lead to, and how did it make you feel? If you can’t remember a time in your life when that happened, try and create a situation like this in the coming weeks and note what happens.

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