Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Specific rules for civil conversation

Since fostering civil discussion has become one of our national priorities, I thought I'd add my two cents. Too much of what public figures and political commentators are suggesting, in my opinion, resembles the overly vague goals of today's schools (Approach learning as a lifelong process; Appreciate diverse disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives and approaches to knowledge; demonstrate receptivity to new knowledge; blah, blah, blahthat ultimately go nowhere.  Really listen to the other person; Show respect for alternative view points; Treat the conversation as a common search for truth rather than as a battlefield--people tend to think they're already doing these things. Surely it's only those on the other side that need to reform. 

So how about these concrete "left-brained" rules instead:

1. No time limits: Allow a large, open-ended amount of time for discussion. Don't start a debate when you have less than an hour left with someone, unless you schedule ahead of time a follow-up meeting to resume the discussion.

2. No interruptions: Knowing that there's plenty of time left, let the other person go on and on and on as long as s/he wants to. Take notes on what you'd like to say in response to specific points rather than interrupting at that moment because you might forget it later.

3. Keep it specific. Avoid statements like "But s/he is a member of the Heritage Foundation," or "that sounds like socialism." Start with a particular issue and discuss it in as much detail as possible.

4. Check facts rather than argue over them. Have an internet device handy for looking up specific points of factual contention. If sources are contradictory, keep looking things up.

5. Use your "indoor voice."

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