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Moving Towards a More Civil Discourse

Few would argue against the statement that our society is polarized, perhaps more polarized than any other time.  Everywhere you look you see people with strongly held opinions and beliefs who seem to be diametrically opposed to others who are equally sure that their opinions and beliefs are facts.  Nowhere is there honest civil discussion.  It is common for people to search out those who agree with them and avoid those who do not agree. With the present abundance of information sources both on the internet and television, it is easy to find information which supports one's view and this leads to people living inside an information bubble, never being exposed to differing opinions.  It is also true that most people having been emboldened by their chosen information bubble act as if their opinions and belief are immutable facts.

In order to have a civil discussion with someone else there are two absolute requirements: 1) you both have to agree that there is some underlying reality, and 2) you both must agree that your individual perspectives of that reality might not be perfectly correct and therefore you might learn from some else's perspective.

If one or both of you do not accept that there is some absolute underlying reality then all things are relative and the world is completely dependent upon one's own perspective.  Everyone would then be living in their own world and there would be no need to know what someone else thinks or believes.  To the second point, if you believe that your perspective is perfect then there is no reason to want to know someone else's perspective.

To put this in practical terms, first, try to understand someone else's perspective.  You can do this by listening carefully and then asking clarifying non-threatening questions.  Before you relate your opinion ascertain whether the other person is open to considering your point of view.  You can do this by waiting for them to ask a question or to ask for your opinion.  If they do not ask for your opinion then do not give it.  If you give a dissenting opinion that was not asked for then your words will fall on deaf ears and you will be arguing.  Avoid arguing, you never change the other person's perspective and you just harden their opinion against you and cause ill feelings.  This approach takes a great deal of patience and self-control because our natural instinct is to argue against an opinion that we do not agree with.  If you think about it you will realize the wisdom of this advice.  Think about how rarely, if ever, you have actually changed someone's opinion by arguing with them.  If you are rarely successful, why do you keep doing it?

If you have the patience to wait until someone asks for your opinion, then they may be receptive to considering your perspective. If they are receptive to considering your opinion then and only then will civil discourse be possible.  It is only through honest civil discourse will we be able to find the truth or at least a more perfect representation of the truth and move our society forward out of the quagmire that is our present polarized state.

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