Civil Discourse Wrap-up

By Jethro Swain

What is civil discourse? I really hope you know by now, because if you don’t, then you have been paying little to no attention recently.

Following a chapel a couple weeks ago led by me and my fellow GPC students, we ran a long advisory to talk more about what civil discourse meant.

So now that you hopefully know what civil discourse is, you will try to use it. The goal of all these presentations and discussions was to, in the end, get people to engage in political discussions in the right way, so that we can be active citizens.

You probably won’t be having conflicting political arguments with your friends, who you talk to the most, so don’t talk with them about some broad topic you all agree about and then come back and say you had civil discourse. Instead, look to try out your newly formed civil discourse skills with people you don’t know well, because those are the people whose ideas will challenge your own, and that you can learn something from.

To help further explain what civil discourse is about, in case you need MORE help, I want to compare it to a term called “generous orthodoxy”.

Generous orthodoxy is a balance of being able to stay true to one’s own values and fight for what he or she believes in, while still listening to and respecting what other people, who may be on the opposite side of an issue, have accomplished and what they think.

The podcast that I listened to in Literary Journalism class that taught me this term was called “Generous Orthodoxy” and it was written by Malcolm Gladwell. You can find it in the link below if you want to listen to it. But Gladwell finds it important because he says that, “Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness, and generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.”

What he is getting at is that not opening yourself up to other people’s opinions makes you stiff and close-minded, however it is important to maintain your own beliefs or else you basically have no backbone and are just agreeing with what everyone else says. He also states towards the end of the podcast that, “you must respect the body you are trying to heal.”

Say for example that you’re having a conversation with a guy who says he likes raisins, and you hate raisins. You tell him that he is so stupid and ignorant for liking raisins and that he should leave the city because you don’t want raisin lovers in your city. If you start the conversation out like that, without even hearing why the man likes raisins, do you think he would ever change his mind about eating raisins, or would he just think you’re some crazy person who he needs to mute from his life?

Practicing civil discourse and generous orthodoxy go hand in hand, because if you can respect someone else’s values, and see why it is that they believe in the things that they do, then you can possibly open your mind to one of their ideas and even say to them, “your point makes sense, and I can now take what I have learned from you and apply it to my own ideas,” or get them to say the same thing.

If you want a summed up version of this article since it might be a bit rough and one big tangent, it would be this: go out and try to understand new beliefs from new people because if you block out every idea that is opposite to your own instead of listening to those unusual ideas, then you have no grounds to claim that you are any better than the person that you believe is wrong.

Gladwell’s podcast:  http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/09-generous-orthodoxy

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