This year presents a historic presidential election, along with a more profound political divide than our nation has possibly ever seen. The American Psychological Association (APA) recently found that "nearly 60 percent of Americans felt stressed because of current social divisiveness," which has contributed to increased feelings of negativity toward civil discourse.
Following the first contentious presidential debate, with the election just weeks away, this tension further strains the possibility of discussing topics with civility. Now that we are more polarized than ever, how can we begin to dialogue with those we disagree with and still maintain our relationships?
Tensions have increased in a year rattled by a tragic pandemic, racial turmoil, the recent vacancy in the Supreme Court, and the president and first lady now COVID-positive, leading us to what could only be referred to as a historical political divide.
Simply put, we don't know how to talk to each other. We don't know how to engage mere differences of political opinion. Meanwhile, as we further distance ourselves from discussing politics with friends, co-workers and family members, our political turmoil has heightened. But, without discussing these critical issues, tensions will continue to grow.
Our culture desperately needs to understand how to engage in civil discussions. If we desire divisiveness to dissolve, we must learn to embody civility in political dialogue.
Civility may sound complex or overwhelming to some, but it is living in a way that addresses each person with human decency and respect. Healthy relationships are essential for us all. How we navigate conversations is imperative, including how we talk about our nation's politics: the policies and leaders that govern our society.
The term civil comes from the Latin root word civitas, which means, according to Merriam Webster, a body of people constituting a politically organized community. In light of civitas, civil refers to the substance that holds a community together.
If we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed when speaking about politics, we will never learn how to discuss difficult subjects. By skirting around the issue, we avoid getting to the root of these problems and find ourselves tackling matters with one another in reactive and unhealthy ways.
Before we can engage in civil discussions, we need to understand why we should do so. Our human nature enters most political discourse in defense mode, just focused on what we want to say. We must first prepare our minds and hearts to want to understand those around us.
Avoid practicing civil discourse on social media. Whether it be politics, religion or any personal opinions that can get controversial, don't have these discussions online. Be intentional to engage in these talks face to face and avoid adding to the political battlefields that reside on Facebook and Twitter. Your conversation is very likely to be misinterpreted online and can kick off meaningless banter. A discussion will offer a more rewarding exchange when had in person.
As Stephen Covey suggests in his book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," "Listen to understand instead of listening to respond." Work to be an active listener. In these heated debates, rarely are we keeping our ears open to take in new information. Instead of thinking of what you will say next while someone is sharing their opinion, give them room to express and be heard.
Then, we need to ponder and reflect on the words we hear. We are often used to jumping to conclusions on what someone is saying. After you listen, take a second to pause, even if it is just a moment longer than you typically would. Offer a reflection to summarize what the other person said. This forces you to listen and allows the other person to reflect on their own views.
Lastly, we need to embody intellectual humility. When embodying intellectual humility, professor of counseling and author of "Beyond Your Bubble: How to connect beyond the political divide," Tania Israel, suggests, "Learn how to be righteous without being self-righteous." Intellectual humility is a practice of considering that you may not always be right. Position yourself in a place of humility, even if you think you know the answer. No one responds well to a know-it-all, and rarely can know-it-alls learn something new.
Civil discourse isn't forgoing our beliefs for another or letting someone else "win." It is positioning ourselves in a place of curiosity. These political discussions don't need to be a means to beat each other down or tear each other up, but they should be building us all up. A steady practice of civil discussions will lead to a lifetime of learning.
As we approach this monumental presidential election, it is an opportunity for us all to become better learners of why we believe what we do. More importantly, it is a chance for us to genuinely respect and relate to one another.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of "Framework Leadership." A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern's president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Read Kent Ingle's Reports — More Here.
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