Civil Conversations

Having a civil conversation goes beyond mere talking to another, but to walk with someone even if one disagrees on everything.

Recently I was listening to a program on NPR (National Public Radio).  The program was from "On Being" which it describes itself this way:

"On Being is a spacious conversation — and an evolving media space — about the big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit."

The particular program I was listening to, is part of their Civil Conversations Project.

"The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) — ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces.  CCP is a series of radio shows and an online resource for beginning new conversations in families and communities. How do we speak the questions we don't know how to ask each other? Can we find ways to bridge gulfs between us about politics, morality, and life itself? Can we do that even while we continue to disagree, passionately? How is technology playing into all this, and how can we shape it?"

You can find it here: http://being.publicradio.org/first-person/civil-conversations/

Indeed, civil conversation is what is needed in these polarized times.  It is so easy to demonize someone we disagree with politically, theologically, or socially.

As I began to work in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 1998, I met weekly with a group of other new priests.  One of the new priests was a retired military officer who had a call to the ordained ministry later in life.  I was fresh out of seminary and only 5 years after my college days at the University of Michigan.  He was very conservative and I was not.  Despite the differences, we had a friendship that grew over the year.  We learned about each others families, our differences and how God had called each of us to the ministry.

In 2003, the Rev. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire.  Gene was in a committed relationship with his partner Mark.  This led some in the Episcopal Church to leave to find a new faith home.  My friend and his congregation left the Episcopal Church.  I still remember all those times we sat in the same room, shared a meal, had a conversation but never ever cast the other out.  I was sad to see him leave but honor his need to find the right path.

It will take effort in our conversations in Monroe to not disparage others.  It will not mean we will come to an agreement but that we can stay talking without the need to cast out the other. 

If we expect to walk together as fellow travelers on this planet, we need to take the time to learn about each other, to talk with each other, even to share a meal.  When we do this, we will not be able to condemn the other, for the other will now be our friend.

Postscript: Sometime in the winter, I will offer a class one evening at the Library to begin our civil conversations based on the work of that radio show.  Stay tuned.

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Kurt Huber November 08, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Well put CoffeeDrinker. If we don't get outside of our circles often, our world view is sorely lacking and it then becomes so easy to be uncivil towards our neighbors. We are all imperfect - indeed! Thanks for your comment!
Wolfe November 09, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Kurt, thank you for your well-written (and needed) article. People today are sorely lacking in the same social graces that you and I were raised with (and we have even less than our parents have/had). Just imagine if we were all as polite to one another as our parents' generation was to one another!! Think of how much kinder people would be. No one would be pointing fingers at everyone else and trying place the blame for everything that goes wrong in their lives on someone else. As I was taught, whenever you point a finger at someone else, there are three more pointing right back at you (just look at your own hand). Thank you again, Kurt.
Carl Kolchak November 11, 2011 at 10:26 PM
Saw a Skidmore professor named Sheldon Solomon on TV the other night talking about his research that shows when people are asked to think about their own mortality their affection for people they like is amplified and their disdain for people they dislike is also exaggerated. I wonder why this is? Strange.
Kurt Huber November 12, 2011 at 02:13 AM
You are welcome. Thanks for the comments.
Kurt Huber November 14, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Professor Solomon from Skidmore came up with the Terror Management Theory (TMT), which in social psychology, states that all human behavior is motivated by the fear of mortality, according to wikipedia. I am not sure I agree with it... You can find the info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory


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