Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MUST We Be Rational?

Here we go: Taking all of the fun out of deriding each other. Advocating actually listening as opposed to, whenever someone disagrees, yelling "Shut up!" (the talking head version of sticking your fingers in your ears and repeating 'lalalalalalalalala' until your opponent actually shuts up or your producer cuts his mike). From Richard Hardwood of the Hardwood Institute comes a new proposal to put the civility back in "civil discourse:"

"[A]nyone who holds a leadership position of any kind should have to speak (let’s say, no less than three times a year) before audiences they know disagree with them, or are even hostile to their views. I’ve been thinking about this idea for awhile; but I was reminded of it again as I watched President Bush speak before the annual NAACP convention last week.
. . . . .

[T]here are important reasons why we must force ourselves to enter into these uncomfortable spaces. Too often in public life and politics, we find ways to avoid one another; we too easily detach ourselves from the concerns of others; we can come to see people merely as opponents; we demonize people without second thought or reproach. Under such circumstances, the “other” becomes objectified – someone who lives outside our realm as if they occupy a different orbit."

His reasons are sound:
  • The mere act of showing up, and making oneself present, is a public acknowledgement of other people’s humanity – a very human signal of respect that despite our disagreements, we live in a common space.
  • The pointing out of why real disagreements exist requires a leader to offer an idea, a line of thought, an argument and thus for others to see that there is a thoughtfulness and thoroughness that informs that individual.
  • There is a kind of entreaty at work in this approach – a call and the potential for a response. Even if the response is negative, we know there has been an exchange.
  • Clearly demarcating where there are real disagreements in ideas or policy allows for a discussion to be joined – there is something to be discussed and debated, even if it can’t be readily resolved.
  • Showing up means that any attempt to demonize others must be done with full accountability. If you want to take the tough shots, you must be present.
  • Finally, entering these less-than-supportive environments forces the speaker to use language that serves to engage and not push away people. For after all, the speaker seeks to illuminate his or her views, to take care in what they say, and to strive to be understood rather than to obfuscate or serve up platitudes.
  • Anyone willing to take up the challenge?

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