How to have civil discourse
From the classroom to the residence hall to family gatherings, you are likely to encounter people who hold opposing viewpoints -- especially in regards to politics and elections. People disagree, and that's OK, but how can you dialogue in a healthy way?
IU's Political and Civic Engagement (PACE) program, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, offers these agreements to foster productive discussions:
- Be honest and respectful (be careful not to make assumptions)
- Listen to understand
- It's OK to disagree, but do so with curiosity, not hostility
- Be brief and concise (so everyone can participate)
- Refrain from interrupting
- Confidentiality (the views of others stay in the group)
What if someone is failing to "play by the rules" and creates obstacles to the conversation? You can still attempt to engage and work toward a productive conversation by:
- Respectfully ask for supporting evidence of statements made
- Remain calm
- Ask for equal time, politely ("may I finish my point?")
- Express understanding ("I hear you")
- TED talk: "How common threats can make common (political ground)"
- TED talk: "How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them"
The holidays can be stressful even in the best of times, but after a contentious election and in the midst of a pandemic, reconnecting with extended family and friends may be especially trying. Whether you're having a socially distant holiday meal or catching up via FaceTime, you can keep the conversation light even when more contentious topics come up.
A university study of social network interactions made a distinction between disagreement and diversity, disagreement being the extent you are exposed to those who are on the opposite side of social issues and diversity being the extent in which your network allows a variety of opinions to be expressed. With that, tips to help communicate more effectively can be shared:
- Appreciate the value of diversity, trying to gain from the sharing of different opinions
- Listen with an open mind
- Keep your cool even as the conversation heats up
- Don’t drag others into the debate (don't try to form coalitions)
- Avoid personal insults
IU psychology professors offered tips on how to have difficult conversations around COVID-19, and some of those are applicable to discussions about the election or other contentious issues.
- Be honest and upfront about avoiding divisive topics ("I value our relationship too much to have this get in the way")
- In order to preserve a relationship, don't be accusatory or name-call.
- Recognize that cultural influences can affect one's feelings and behaviors
As trying as 2020 has been on a number of levels, it has inspired many to be more active in their communities. Get involved:
- Advocacy and political organizations abound on IU campuses, from the Social Justice Scholars at IUPUI to Cougar Advocates for Diversity at IU Kokomo. Search for organizations on each campus:
- To get involved around Indiana, visit the state's Serve Indiana site or reach out to your local county or city government office.
- Volunteer opportunities are easy to find online, and virtual volunteering options during the pandemic are just as plentiful. Look in your city or county for sites such as the Bloomington Volunteer Network.
- For nonprofits, GuideStar's database of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized organizations is a good start for finding a group to support. Reach out to a local chapter to get involved in your community.