Bringing Civility Back to Discourse

Vanessa Torre

Have we lost the ability to have a conversation that’s not hostile?

I’m a fan conversation. I love it. I want all in. I mean, let’s dig into the serious stuff. The hard stuff. The weird stuff. Forget the small talk.

There is a prevalent issue in doing this, though. Every day I see a woeful lack of civil discourse. People have become nasty. Some of the nastiness is so aggressive and in our faces that it’s hard to ignore.

Even more pervasive seems to be a low-grade passive aggression that carries the same level of nastiness while allowing the attacker to bow out as though nothing has happened. No attack was made. Nothing to see here, folks.

These two levels of nastiness carry two very different threats to civil discourse. The first lacks decency and respect. The second lacks honesty.

It seems we are horribly out of practice in talking to each other from a place of mutual respect, despite differences of opinions. Perhaps we were never taught this. Our leaders have not proven to be shining examples.

Add to this the fact that we have a propensity to engage in discussion via the internet. You know, the place where no one really knows us and keyboards work as amazing shields. Respect is not a necessity.

If ever there was a land where public displays of assholery were a mainstay, it would be the internet.

There is no doubt that social media has created a serious decline in our communication. What was supposed to connect us and bring us to others is what drives wedges between us.

Civil discourse allows us to be honest and vulnerable. It gives us understanding. It builds instead of breaks down. This is a good space to occupy.

Yet, we’re horrible at it. The funny thing is that it’s not hard. It just requires patience and caring. There are some behaviors we need to change if we’re going to shift toward civil discourse. These should be common sense. It’s sad that they’re not.

Actively listen

Your next thought has no place in the present. That’s for the future. There’s plenty of time. When someone’s sharing an opinion, a thought, a feeling, an emotion, there is one choice you have: listen. Hear them. Really hear them. It doesn’t matter if your gut reaction is “This person is an idiot.” Listen instead.

We’re hard wired to hate silence in a conversation. Silence means you’re thinking. You’re choosing your words careful. What’s not respectable about that?

If you’re reading something online, read the whole thing. Don’t get half way through an article or a comment and fire off. Even better, read more from the person. See if there isn’t something you’ve missed.

Lose the need to be right

We are attached as hell to the idea of being right. We dig our heels in and lose the ability to consider someone else’s perspective, ideas or data. What if we approached conversation not with the intent to refute someone else’s ideas but with the understanding that we may be…wrong. Mind blowing.

We may be experts in some things, but those things are few. I am leery of people who claim to know a lot about a lot of things. There is freedom in being wrong. That freedom brings an opportunity to learn.

Never invalidate someone’s feelings

Data can be wrong. Facts can be skewed. Someone’s feelings? Someone’s experience? Valid. Always valid. Doesn’t matter if you agree. That’s their experience. They get to own it, not you.

Question everything but emotion. You can’t argue it. Instead of fighting how someone feels, figure out the why. The why to the feeling is the key. It starts a whole other ball game.

Ask questions. Ask for expansion.

There is no way to understand someone, their ideas or their perspective without asking questions. It’s beyond leaning in. It’s diving in.

Communication is not easy. Word choice can be hard. I know I have been in more than enough situations where I am trying to explain myself and doing a piss poor job. Nothing comes out right. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been there.

If you don’t agree. If you don’t understand. Inquire. “I don’t agree. Help me understand where you’re coming from.” That’s really no so hard.

Fire should not be fought with fire

I see this more times than I ever care to. Twitter. Facebook. Comments sections. One person feels attacked. There are two ways to deal with it. 1) Recognize that someone’s reaction to you is NOT about you and move on or 2) Fire back.

Firing back may feel good for a few short minutes. We feel bad ass. We told them. We called them to the carpet. We gave them what they deserve. We knocked them down publicly. And people. loved. it.

The main difference is that if you move on, no one is going to stand behind you in your Daenerys Targaryen moment to clap and cheer you on.

People love the attention and the accolades. If you clap back to shame someone or to gain support from others, you’re no better than the person who attacked you to begin with.

Worse yet, don’t go starting a fight for the sake of the fight

We’re happy with the trigger finger. Knee jerk reactions are easy to come by. Ask yourself, is this conversation going to be a better place if I wade into it?

I have written many articles about women’s issues. One of them got passed around a MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) website. They sent troops.

In a matter of days, my comments section became a vile cesspool of unnecessary vitriol. I’m not going to lie. It was difficult. I was angry. There was no need for me to feel that way. I didn’t deserve to be punished for my feelings. It wasn’t a conversation. They came to pick a fight.

Burr shot first. Look how that ended. Don’t be Aaron Burr.

Know when to walk away

Not every conversation is worth staying in. If you’re going to have civil discourse, you need a civil partner. Not everyone will fill this role. Learn where your limit is.

Don’t base your limit on how much you agree with someone else or how well you understand them. Base it on how understood you feel. If you’re in a conversation and that person is not going to walk down that road with you, walk on by.

I don’t always walk the walk here. I want to be honest in that. I have bad days. We all do. I try to learn from them. I’m committed to doing these things. We all should be. Please do this. Come back and tell me how it goes. I’ll listen.

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Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, she won’t stop taking pictures of her drinks. IG: vanessaltorre Twitter: @vanessaltorre

Phoenix, AZ

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