If memory serves me correctly, Thomas Jefferson said something about an informed citizency being necessary for a democracy to work. This must include not only a firm technical understanding of important issues to democracy but equally important understanding (not agreement with) of the views of proponents and opponents of each issue. This is particularly true for opponents of views of our own. The frank, honest, respectful exchange of views between citizens is not only a critical educational process and component necessary to a healthy democracy but is the life blood of democracy. Widespread Political correctness is a cancer on the heart of democracy.
We tend to insist on civility, and to a lesser extent politeness and political correctness, in public discussions. We do this in order to get the broadest diversity of points of view. It isn't because 'rudeness' make other people shut up, (it often makes them respond in kind). It is because we are after observations that add to the collective perspective. Having a high standard for the tone of peoples comments, tends to screen out some of the least helpful comments, i.e., the ones that are more about beliefs, old fights, and new provocations, than they are observations from a point of view.
Looking forward to the discussion regarding civil engagement and what people perceive versus what people really feel. It is important to realize getting to the honest exchange may never happen because of social, economic and emotional hinderences of people engaging in real time. We behave rather then debate and we exchange with quips and thoughts, rather then words.
Take a second and think about these two words as a singular descriptor: “Political Correctness”.
“Political” a universal word that describes the base for all that is ‘incorrect’ in society regardless of you particular political stripe, and "Correctness"; used together to describe a behavior or attitude.
It should be clear that the only possible way to have "Political Correctness" is to eliminate the politics!
Yes, I fully understand that the goal was to prevent people from being offended. Unfortunately the first casualty is truth. The truth is you do not have the right to not be offended. When you think about the term it really is Orwellian.
“Don’t ask me what I think of you I might not give you the answers that you want me to!”
We are a country of everyone being right. Believers, non-believers, bigots, non-bigots. None of it makes sense. We constantly tolerate the intolerant. Then we pat ourselves on the back, many liberals included, thinking we are somehow sophisticated and inclusive. But, by proxy our tolerating intolerant views makes us all culpable. This middle-class tolerance turns us all into bigots, all into fools.
NPR is often guilty of this. Thinking they are being objective and inclusive by including stupidity into broadcasts to allegedly balance things. As if, balancing intelligence with ignorance makes us all smarter, all the more civil. Because we are so polite to the thick-headed. Don't we feel so proud? We can all go home at night and think at least we didn't yell or didn't scream over each other. Well the world is a place that sometimes needs some intelligent screams.
"Well the world is a place that sometimes needs some intelligent screams."
A nice line.
I love the line "the world is a place that sometimes needs intelligent screams". If I were completely PC though I would question whether or not that might make the less intelligent out there feel bad as the world would then not need their particular screams.
When it comes to civility in discussion I think the best attribute individuals can have in any topic of debate is to be unfaltering in your values and your opinion given the information you have. The purpose of the debate is to help gather more information that may help change or manipulate your opinion, not necessarily to give in or only propose your idea. In debates that I have with peers I use their facts an information to look into my own opinions. Civility in conversation doesn't mean falling down in the middle and comprimising everything, but showing the other person that their opinions and information are valuable to you in a way that you can use those opinions and information to format future ideas on the subject. There may not be a settled conclusion at the end of any debate.
Malcolm Gladwell writes the following in the December 22 New Yorker:
The problem, of course, is that niceness is overrated as a virtue. Many cultures are nice. The Southern antebellum aristocracy was marvellously well-mannered; its members left tasteful calling cards, entertained gracefully, and conducted their personal affairs with the utmost discretion. But they had few other virtues; in fact, it was the practice of niceness that helped to keep other values, such as fairness, at bay. Fairness sometimes requires that surfaces be disturbed, that patterns of cordiality be broken, and that people, rudely and abruptly, be removed from their place. Niceness is the enemy of fairness.
I couldn't put it better.
I find this a baffling question having grown up and lived most of my life in the NW. While it seems not as strong in PDX as in areas such as the Seattle area, passive aggressive is the norm for me an many others who were raised here.
My wife is from the E. Coast along with several friends, and they are constantly frustrated with the passive aggressive people in the NW. They say that people never get to the point, that they don't say what they mean, or state their position enough.
I argue that there are sublties, and that amongst people in the NW they are aware of peoples positions without one another jumping down each others throats. So is this not a something that changes by degree region to region- culture to culture? I think so, and it would behoove those who move to other areas (such as to and from the NW to say the E Coast) that they adopt the regions way if interfacing.
Since I moved here 8 years ago, this continues to fascinate and frustrate me. I will say that though I so miss east coast personalities, I will admit that just because east coasters tend to be more direct and forthright, that doesn't mean they're being honest.
That being said, there's a big difference between clinging to a passive-and-nice-as-virtue concept and jumping down anothers' throat.
Civility here, in terms of strangers talking to each other, little honking at lights, general friendliness is wonderful. What your wife is likely talking about though is when she can tell that a person is smiling and acting superficially "nice" but she's picking up on a vibe that is far from it.
Yes, not everything on one's mind needs to be spoken. But the "nice" person isn't necessarily kind. And the fear-of-confrontation person might not defend, say, a person being unfairly treated in a group setting. I would. And that would make people fear me a little because they'd imagine I'd call them out in public, too. What they'd be missing is the intent of my actions as opposed to the surface-level behavior.
If enough peoples' outward behavior doesn't match their interior intentions, motivations, feelings you end up with a strange place.
It's too easy to dismiss it all as being "nice" versus being a jerk. This view allows people to not have to examine how and why they behave as they do.
This conversation ties in well to a local story covered on Morning Edition about the Sellwood Bridge Project in SE Portland. Today there is a 3pm meeting with the Policy Advisory Group -- a group of agency and elected officials. If people are overly polite, no one gets the message that there are core issues here that need to be worked out. But if people have constructive criticism and ideas, and are civil about it, it really opens up the door to examine the project and challenge the current assumptions. In this case, you can challenge proposals for an overly expensive and overbuilt project with valid arguments and challenge the decision makers to rethink the direction of this project. On the other hand, if you are rude (and people have been rude), your arguments -- even if they are valid -- are discounted. It's akin to civil disobedience v. violence.
I am a practicing buddhist and we are encouraged to ask ourselves four questions before we speak. Is what I am about to say:
true? useful or beneficial? spoken at the right time? spoken in kindness?
I have found this actually works (but is super hard to do) and has proven to me that truth and kindness never have to be mutually exclusive.
With training and practice we can be civil AND confrontational- it is a teachable skill. Let's learn to address issues and back up our positional thinking with evidence. Let's learn to make our point without namecalling. Let's learn to listen for understanding.
(e.g. Robert could have asked to speak to the manager, or someone who would be able to call the salesperson off the floor to confirm his statements.)
"Robert could have asked to speak to the manager, or someone who would be able to call the salesperson off the floor to confirm his statements."
The person I had the misfortune of dealing with was actually the manager on duty. I was told that I could return a few days later to speak with the actual store manager, however, the delay of those few days would have put me outside the parameters of the stores return policy window.
Regarding the rest of your statement though, I couldn't agree more. I don't claim to be well practiced at what you're describing, but I concede that it's a skill well worth learning.
It is truly valuable to be informed of an issue before commenting, that requires me to listen extensively to the 'other view' (a challenging act). Unfortunately the US culture and the PNW in particular is very repressive of rational discussions. This leaves us in a much weaker position as you can see by the growing homogeneity of the left coast. This will not be good for our region or nation.
We would be well served to practice some creative confrontation
Having been raised in Europe, I am a polite person by nature. I often find American brashness a bit offputting; but it doesn't necessarily mean I don't voice my opinions, nor am I passive-aggressive about it as some people would be; smiting you with a smile.
I don't usually pursue debate with those who don't agree with me if they're obviously not going to listen to my arguments. A lot of people will simply stand there and wait for you to stop talking so they can make their next point--paying little to no heed at all to whatever point you may have made. There are times when you know there is going to be no open-mindedness; and certainly no convincing them of anything. They believe they are right even when presented with facts that prove them wrong. Many people stick to certain ideas and do not deviate; nothing I say will change that.
It's easier to bite my tongue. It's a waste of breath, so it's best to lean back, listen to their ideas no matter how impossible they seem to me, and let them believe what they're going to believe. It's no use screaming about anything with someone who is passionate about their ideas and unable to hear others, it acheives nothing.
"Having been raised in Europe, I am a polite person by nature. I often find American brashness a bit offputting"
Where in Europe? In my experience with people specifically from England, they are far more blunt than those I have known in this country. In fact I had an English woman comment to me that it's downright annoying that Americans are overly polite.
I agree- and would add that many times in an argument, if one so desires, they can take control of the converstation by seeming the more calm and rational one while the other just foams at the mouth and turns beet red. This is especially true when the conversation is amongst a group of people.
I would venture to say that the final round of presidential debates demonstrated what I believe you're suggesting more effectively than any other example in recent memory.
Europe is a big place, with many different cultures, with some of them being known for their brashness---I won't mention any names. I think perhaps we are talking about aesthetics, mannerisms and style of Americans which is indeed brash. The collective intelligence of Americans could also been seen as brash. But I think Americans are altogether too uniformed to put up much of a convincing fight in the areas of civility. They are civil because they are complacent, they don't know the rules well enough in order to break them. This lack of knowledge is why Americans might be seen as brash and bumbling. Impolite? Uncivil? Not sure.
Bluntness should not be confused with incivility. Neither should niceness be confused with virtue.
You have to realize that some people have no intention of discussing something, they are only out to spread propaganda and intimidate. I learned that on the old TOTN forums in trying to discuss with Conservative Republicans; they are the most outrageous liars and they reject logic and rationality and are totally resistant to Critical Thinking.
Ironically, they usually provide sources for their arguments that prove themselves wrong, so sometimes it is fun.
I just started listening and am new to the show. I really enjoy it! Here is a thought for your discussion today. There are many that want polite non-confrontational discussion because they just have better verbal skills. Many care more about “winning” and argument rather then finding solutions. I think this is one of the most frustrating aspects of the general public dealing with politicians. The general belief that Politicians have already made up their mind and aren’t really listening
As a straggler behind Buddhism I think a lot about not saying harmful things. What is really the truth and what is illusion? Am I causing suffering with my words and actions? I come to understand that the less I say (except on TOL) the better. I really need to spend more time listening and asking questions. The more convinced I am that I know the truth, the less I actually know.
I wonder if it is a useful distinction to suggest that a public discussion may have different goals than a private discussion between two people, or even a group of like minded people, (political, or religious).
More topics for another day?
Being polite means only that, that you are polite. It is superficial at best. It says little about your character. A polite bigot is still a bigot, a polite murderer is still a murderer. I was robbed at gun point, by a guy who said "I hate to do this to you." Should I feel flattered by his civility? Was he a better man for it?
Politeness can sometimes make things run smoothly, but generally when there is nothing at stake. For example the world has been polite for too long to the religious (all faiths). How funny, many of these religious people think I am going to hell for eternal damnation. I am polite to them, they are polite to me. Why bother? Do they even believe what they claim? Does civility keep them in check? Or does it just water down their faith?
I actually admire good manners, but only when they are seen for what they are. Having good manners just means that you are not the only person on the planet, you recognize this, you make space for others, you're nice until you have enough information not to be. Good manners, politeness and civility work only in that they help civilize ordinary social interactions. These social imperatives become dispensable when things cross over to the consequential and extraordinary realm of the 'bigger issues.'
The 'bigger issues' are also minefields of beliefs that are fortified with selective preponderance. If I understand you, I agree that being civil will not get us to the 'truth'. Being uncivil wont help either.
The problem is that, collectively, we can not handle enough variables to not specialize/polarize on the complex stuff. Mind mapping can help, (for the highly motivated and energetic).
I fear that the vast majority will still always choose to reinforce a side on a polarity. One side may well be MORE right than the other, but it still leads to war.
This is an interesting topic. I'm sorry I missed the show. I just wanted to share our experience here in Corvallis. We started an experiment called the Corvallis Open Forum where we met every week with a soapbox and some chairs and invited any and all to speak/perform about any and all for four minutes at a time with a signup sheet.
It has been really interesting at times and uncomfortable at others. Depending on the people, there have been differences aired with civility and I dare say understanding achieved and other times when some people have verged on physical hostility, no actual incidents, though, knock on wood. Of course the main guideline is to respect others, and for the most part this has worked, though that too has broken down on occassion. It takes a skillful, vigilant and emotionally detached moderator to maintain cohesion when things get really heated.
Whether we'll continue is up in the air but I'm convinced that providing people an opportunity for verbal expression, face to face with our neighbors is empowering for everyone involved.
Civility is difficult when it is not practiced. We need to practice it more and it will get better, like everything else, I imagine.
What are the benefits? Nothing less than a better society. The more we can engage each other and reach consensus, the better.
If you saw that program last night called Local Color, about how Portland and Oregon used to be so racist and discriminatory, you know that positive change does occur, slow though it may be, and sometimes, "requiring funerals" as the gentleman said. It made me think of equal rights for the LGBT community. We're not there yet, but its pretty much inevitable.
Having more civil discourse in general is a positive for society. Perhaps it could help ween us off of mass consumerism and complacency (as someone else mentioned).
We don't know its limitations because we don't really have much civil discourse to speak of.
The very idea of discussing things is inherently a liberal idea, or at least a non-Conservative idea.
Just consider, the very definition of Conservatism is that they are "against change", and discussing anything implies that things could be "changed".
I think of former British Prime Minister Margaret "TINA" Thatcher. "TINA" stood for "There Is No Alternative".
Conservatives have a leftover and still hanging on version of "Divine Right" in that they believe without question that they are right, that their correctness was somehow bestowed by God and their Divine Rights cannot be questioned by others. They don't "discuss", they tell you how it is.
And I think that President Obama has run into that Conservative brick wall just last week.
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