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Jason Miller County Council at Large


May 4, 2018

Working Together Instead of….

Patricia A. Kelly

Believe it or not, there’s talk going around the country about something called Civil Discourse. It seems an actual movement has developed, in the face of all the name calling, demonization and general vituperation making headlines throughout our land.

 

According to the Internet: There exists a National Institute for Civil Discourse.

 

The Southern Poverty Law Center provides curriculum for civil discourse as part of its “Teaching Tolerance” program.

 

There’s an organization called Better Angels. “Let’s de-polarize America”.

 

The Huffington Post has something to say on the subject, namely, “We’re better than this,” in an article on the importance of civil discourse.

 

There are studies, one example from “Big Think,” which demonstrates that one is more likely to think positively about another’s opinion if one hears his voice, rather than just seeing his written note online.

 

There’s even the story of a professor of philosophy at Siena College who, on March 22, 2018, quit the school’s Civil Discourse Committee because the prospect of working alongside “evil conservatives” made her miserable. Perhaps this helps explain the rest of it.

 

We’re tired of useless name calling and personal attacks. We’d much rather share genuine ideas, come up with legitimate solutions, or hang out in respectful, friendly disagreement, maybe watching a movie together, than be part of the flaming rage that seems to have taken over our country.

 

Here in Frederick, there exists a small, informal group called Beloved Community. The general mission of the group is to foster community in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not just during an annual dinner, but throughout the year. Our focus, to that end, in recent years, has been to create civil political discourse.

 

As an old Emergency Department charge nurse, known for my ability to stop a 250-pound enraged and charging family member in his tracks by intuiting his concerns and addressing them quickly, I thought I was a good communicator.

 

When I met Paul Fogarty, of Core Values Negotiations, who has been helping us here to get this civil discourse thing off the ground, I wasn’t quite so sure.

 

Try listening and asking respectful questions rather than hurling epithets, when some “fool” is shouting at you that you are insane to support President Donald Trump. It’s not easy.

 

Which brings us to fighting style. When you’re arguing with someone, what techniques do you use to insure victory? Do you pout, walk away, pretend to be listening while planning your counter attack? Do you yell, hit, attempt to drown someone in your facts, belittle them, or gossip about them afterward?

 

We all have these defenses, many subtler than those listed, but we use them to win.

 

Mr. Fogarty’s work involves helping people to cut it out, replacing fighting spirit, and all those defensive tricks, with a sense of curiosity, and even fun. Instead of “How could you possibly believe in open borders or in deporting the DACA children, you idiot,” you might wonder aloud, “Where does your opinion come from? What values of yours does this reflect? Did you say fairness was your reason? I believe in that, but I don’t see my fairness value leading me to that same choice. Tell me more.” In other words, he encourages one to stop fighting long enough to really listen, and then to really converse.

 

We all have values, from peace to love, to courage, to fairness, to justice, and many more. When these core values, whatever yours are, appear to be under assault, it is difficult to remain calm and curious. Opposition of views is never going away, though. As long as the U.S. is a democratic republic, there will be at least two parties representing us in Washington. Their demonizing of each other is doing nothing to solve the truly serious problems facing our nation. It would be so much better if they fulfilled their responsibility to their constituents, and solved the real problems facing us. The way to do that is to have a genuine conversation about the issue, and the true potential impact of legislation.

 

Which brings us back to…civil discourse, core values negotiation, and an effort to truly solve our nation’s problems. We can’t start in Washington. But we can start at home, where dysfunction is also rampant. We can learn to talk with one another right here in our community. We can learn enough about each other to develop genuine respect. We can build relationships. We can bridge what appear to be insurmountable differences. We can demand the same from our leaders.

 

There will be future opportunities to join in the civil discourse and community creation efforts of Beloved Community. Just contact me, Pat Kelly, at patriciaklly@aol.com, Jim Carpenter at carpenterj@jeffersonmd.net, or Paul Fogarty of Core Values Negotiations at paulfogarty@gmail.com, for more information, or to join our mailing list.

 

We can do this.

 

patriciaklly@aol.com

 



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