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The Town Crier

Making Civility Work

by C. John Grom  |  December 12, 2014

Listening, learning, sharing and adapting are difficult concepts for someone who’s all about instructing, demeaning, rebuking and winning. Much value is missed when the desire to beat down another’s position drives participation in a discussion rather than engaging in a free exchange of ideas that advances the knowledge of everyone.

It helps to think of a civilized discussion as an effort to find the best solution to a problem or reach an agreement on the best course of action consistent with an accepted principle. With that in mind, it’s reasonable to say we should make every effort to draw on the unique experiences of as many individuals as possible and give each idea thorough consideration.

To make civility work, it would help to consider the “Principles of Discourse” formulated by President Emeritus of Hampshire College Gregory S. Prince Jr. They require:

  • That we value truth and the process of seeking truth as ends in themselves;
  • That we accept responsibility to articulate a position as close to the truth as one can make it, using the best of one’s ability; available evidence; and the rules of reason, logic and relevance;
  • That we listen openly, recognizing always that new information may alter one’s position;
  • That we welcome evaluation and accept and even encourage disagreement and criticism even to the point of seeking out for ourselves that which will disprove our position;
  • That we refuse to reduce disagreement to personal attacks on groups or classes of individuals;
  • That we value civility, even in disagreement;
  • That we reject the premise that the ends, no matter how worthy, can justify means which violate these principles; and
  • Let others know the prism through which we view the world.

While these rules may not always produce agreement, they’ll produce clarity and a good starting point for the next discussion.



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