America’s never had a monopoly on civil discussions. In the first 100 years since the founding, major politicians like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton dueled to the death. Some estimate Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, participated in up to 100 duels. We even had a civil war.
Today, though shootings still abound, gun duels don’t happen quite like they used to. However, wars with words are still commonplace. Verbal attacks are as rampant as tweets. Physical attacks happen all too often just because someone wears a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat or believes guns should be illegal.
Mitt Romney was ostracized from the Republican party because he voted for his beliefs when he wanted to impeach the president. Nancy Pelosi tore up Donald Trump’s State of the Union address because she doesn’t like him or his politics.
People argue, fight and insult over simple things like typos or which teams really belong in the SuperBowl. Certainly, some of these may be as a joke, but the words are often harsh and scathing. But too often, people argue and fight instead of trying to understand.
People also fight about things with a little more importance like politics, abortion, healthcare and education. The thing is, they fight when they should talk and try to understand.
We at Scroll believe people need to learn to have civil discussions.
The Charles Kock Institute puts civility this way: “Civility is the machine oil that keeps the gears of society running smoothly.”
When Brent Bean, a Communication Department faculty member, teaches Interpersonal Theory and Practice, he has his students perform an experiment. In it, he selects several volunteers and tells that everyone in the world was killed in a nuclear war except for those in the group. There is enough unspoiled food for only half of the group until the radiation disperses.
He then has them debate which group members should live and which should die. The group consists of children, mothers, doctors, engineers, etc. All people that would be necessary to restart mankind; they just need to decide who’s the most important.
When they start debating, there is obvious contention. People interrupt each other when they disagree about repopulation and medicine, the note-taker ignores any and all comments from the side they disagree with, voices are raised, and all this in one scenario that would never happen outside the Hollywood’s comedy section.
After several minutes of fighting, Bean stops them and tells everyone how to argue and debate civilly. People should use phrases like, “I see why you think that … but I disagree. I believe … because …”
Once the students started using that formula, or a similar one, the change became visible. People were less agitated, there were fewer interruptions and the discussion got underway or ran smoothly, as the Charles Koch Institute put it.
And that’s just the surface of civil discussion.
In the November 1988 Ensign, Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, an emeritus member of the Seventy taught, “Christlike communications are expressed in tones of love rather than loudness. They are intended to be helpful rather than hurtful. They tend to bind us together rather than to drive us apart. They tend to build rather than to belittle.”
Imagine what the world would be like if we built instead of belittled. If we loved, even when the other person disagreed.
If we can start putting this into practice in our own lives, outside of classroom experiments, maybe people would be happy, we would understand that someone is going through a hard time and needs help, not insults. Maybe politics would be less venomous and people would share their opinions without fear of attack, either physical or verbal.