Three Lessons from Two Activists on Civil Dialogue

Previous Seeds of Civility posts have discussed the difficulty of staying open when our deeply held beliefs are questioned. Based on our brain design, we want to leave or engage in defensive behavior.  These two options are not helpful when we live in a diverse world. Practically, we need to know how to work and live in communities with others who have opposing points of view.

Real world examples are the best way to learn. On Dec 31, 2014 The Des Moines Register published an insightful story on about two political activists, Donna Red Wing of One Iowa, and Bob Vander Plaats from The Family Leader. Red Wing and Vander Plaats have strongly opposing views about marriage.

According to the author, Rehka Basu, the point of the article Activists Vander Plaats, Red Wing find Common Ground, is to encourage readers “to reach out to someone with whom we disagree and find the common ground.”  Basu writes:

Red Wing and Vander Plaats have been meeting every few months for over a year now, for an hour at a time, with no agenda or talking points. They talk about their families, religion, politics. They share an outrage over human trafficking and payday lending. He appreciates her love of children and says she appreciates his service to special ­needs people.

Three Lessons in Civil Dialogue

Graphic of Three lessons in civil dialogueThere are lessons to be learned from the two advocates as they stayed true to their beliefs yet sought out conversation and dialogue. These are not rules, they are simply lessons learned from the powerful example of Red Wing and Vander Plaats’ story.

  1. Goal – If you decide to spend time listening to another side of an issue, have a goal in mind that is greater than trying to change the person’s mind.
  2. Listen – Treat the other person with same respect you would like when it is your turn to speak.
  3. Rhetoric – Consider the possibility of tempering hard line rhetoric.  Ask yourself, “Can I say the same thing and speak with sincerity in a way that does not cause unnecessary pain?”

Think about it:  Would you consider engaging in this kind of dialogue?

Share your thoughts below or at @seedsofcivility.

Cultivate 510 px squareSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  Here we cultivate conversations about civility in the workplace.

The Fine Art of Valuing Differences

Some of the beliefs that you hold valuable stand in  direct opposition to the beliefs of others. Yet we are expected to live and work with people who hold those beliefs.  It feels uncomfortable. Parker Palmer Civility Quote

Parker Palmer, author of a book called  Healing the Heart of Democracy  helps to point out that there is a fine art to speaking up at the same time as valuing  our differences. Palmer says that we do not need a civility that keeps us from speaking our beliefs.  Rules of civility that focus strictly on good manners dampens rich, meaningful dialogue.

Through the use of the media (and now social media) things do get messy when people speak out.  We see sarcasm in Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and  on radio and television.  If you are reading this after the January 2015 State of the Union address, search #breadbags or #SOTU and you will see examples of this kind of humor.  Sarcasm is a by-product of our freedom to say what we think.  It can be a defensive behavior found at the edge of an issue, and could be symptom of a deeper violation of one’s personal values.

We can lament or preach that cynical, hurtful humor is wrong. We can blame our media and the people who speak freely on their social media platforms. Unfortunately this approach only leads to more hype, blame and fear.  Instead, try a new approach.  Go have coffee with someone who typically takes another side of an issue that is important to you.  If that feels too awkward right now, stay connected to our blog for some further posts on how to engage in dialogue when you know that you don’t agree.

The goal of this post is to speak to the part of you that can see beyond the drama of the media or workplace differences. We invite you to consider that other people do have a right their opinion and you can find value in that.  Let us know your thoughts.

Graphic of Cultivate Seeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  Here we cultivate conversations about civility in the workplace.fine