When it comes to the political climate in the United States, tense would be an understatement. Considering the circumstances that the world has been living through, everyone is stressed. However, there is something missing. Have you noticed it? Many people are aware of how divided people are over many subjects. Especially along party lines. This missing piece has caused this division to grow wider and wider. So, let’s do an experiment.
Let’s start the scene where many arguments occur; a family gathering. All of your relatives are there. Talking about current events in the world. During the conversation, your uncle discusses how to mandate vaccines and vaccine passports are needed. But you don’t agree.
“I don’t think vaccine passports are fair.”
“Why? People should get vaccinated for the greater good”
“But most don’t have medical exemptions. How is it for the greater good if some people are treated differently because they can’t get the vaccine.”
A genuine pause comes from your uncle before he responds.
“Yeah, some people cannot get the vaccines but the majority of civilians can.”
“And I agree, people who can get the vaccines should. But mandating vaccines does not consider people with medical risks or religious beliefs. And the passports don’t either.”
“That is a good point. There should be exemptions. But how do we do that?”
This conversation exemplifies the missing piece in the United States right now. Civil discourse is what is missing. As a result, we are losing what makes our country strong.
Value of Civil Discourse
Civil discourse has been a foundation in the United States. It allows people to be able to voice their concerns and opinions. These civil debates have allowed people with differing ideas to come to a mutual understanding of each other and find solutions. It is a foundation for America’s democracy. America has always been at its best when legislators, representatives, and citizens are able to discuss their differences constructively. However, this essential principle is in decline. And with it, our future.
The State of Civil Discourse
In recent years, civil discourse has been on life-support. And everyone can see it. The country is divided in half with neither of them wanting to go to the table. People are not willing to compromise or back down. While standing up for your beliefs, the level of civil discourse has become a foreign concept. There are many factors that lead to this moment and people will point at where it all started. However, that is the least of our concerns.
The most pressing concern is how this state harms our society. People have noticed this change, with many institutions mentioning how dangerous this decline is. At the moment, our current generation cannot talk with civility or dignity. In fact, they actively vilify opposing viewpoints. Scott Jennings describes the situation best in his article, “...we have forgotten how to be loyal in opposition to one another. Calling for your opponent’s silence is disloyal — to them, and to America’s founding ideals.”
The American people have forgotten that civil discourse is about having loyalty to other people's First Amendment rights. Even if you don’t agree or are revolted by another person’s ideas, you have the responsibility to be loyal to them as opponents. Just like your opponents need to share that same loyalty.
Returning to Civility and Honest Debates
But where do we go from here? How can we return civility and honest debates? Fortunately, civil discourse is not dead. It still exists. But we need to make sure the next generation does not make the same mistakes. That means teach people what it means to participate in democracy. Ashley Berner, the deputy director of John Hopkins Institute of Education Policy, is already making a difference. According to her, teaching civil discourse skills early leads to adults that have positive civic behavior. Fostering these beliefs in others allows for this American ideal to live. However, for our current generation, it is understanding we can change the way we engage with others.
It shouldn’t matter if you're Republican or Democrat or, identify as Conservative or Liberal. Regardless of personal and political beliefs, civil discourse is what America needs.