Putting the civility back in civil discourse


(Ohio News Connection) – Three in four Americans believe the growing tendency to distrust, dislike or even despise those who see the world differently has reached a crisis level. It’s a situation described by some as a “soft civil war,” according to organizers of the National Week of Conversation, an effort to bring people of all political stripes together to talk it out.

The group Better Angels is hosting a skills workshop this Sunday in Cleveland Heights. Member Michael Hagesfeld explains it’s one way to show people how to discuss ideas in a constructive, non-polarizing way.

“There’s a basic humanity at everybody’s core,” says Hagesfeld. “Many times the goals are the same and it’s simply the intent on how to reach them that’s different. And so, by discussing things with people face-to-face, it’s a lot harder to say the vicious things that we end up falling into on Facebook or Twitter.”

He notes disagreement isn’t always a bad thing, and healthy debate often produces the best ideas for resolving problems. But first, people have to get beyond stereotypes and find common ground.

Hagesfeld says conversations are key to bridging the divide, but there also has to be a willingness to listen. He explains that with so many “echo chambers” in today’s world, people often don’t hear opposing views.

“It used to be a more truly, fair and balanced media, simply because it had to cater to everybody,” says Hagesfeld. “You couldn’t eliminate half your audience by only presenting one side. And the evidence shows that neighborhoods used to be more politically balanced than they are now. So now, we’re surrounded by people that say what we want to hear.”

The Pew Research Center says, over the past two decades, the average partisan gap has increased from 15 percentage points to 36 percentage points in the United States.

To find a conversation near you, look online at ‘nationalweekofconversation.org.’ And to become a trained moderator or workshop organizer, visit ‘better-angels.org.’

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