Want Better Conversations In Times Of Divisiveness? Try This

Source: used with permission by pixabay

Incivility in public and private life can be breathtaking to witness and much has been discussed about the lack of civility in our society and culture today. In fact, we just had a National Week of Conversation sponsored by the Initiative to Revive Civility which offered a 7 Day Civility Challenge. This effort sought to encourage people from across the country to actively engage in civil discourse with each other about challenging topics.  They provided specific guidelines including 5 discussion questions for everyone to use. While I’m certainly a very big fan of civility (and actually act as the “civility ambassador” for the American Psychological Association) we can and should do much more than merely expect civility from each other. Civility is a pretty low bar. It basically encourages us not to be nasty or overtly disrespectful of each other.  Can’t we aim higher? I think that we can and that we should.

Perhaps the next step beyond the expectation of civility should be a community focus on hospitality. Hospitality is the “disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Reasonable and thoughtful people can certainly disagree, and disagree passionately, about politics, religion, money, problems of society, and other matters but hospitality suggests that we can engage with each other with a degree of discourse that is generous and gracious. Treating others as you’d like to be treated (i.e., the Golden Rule) is a helpful organizing principle in this regard. Hospitality welcomes different points of view yet still respects and celebrates others and their contribution to the discussion. Hospitality means that you can strongly disagree and argue with others but that you always do so with respect, compassion, and with both a gracious and generous spirit that is welcoming.

If we can accomplish both civility and hospitality in our conversations and relationships with others then we may have a chance of reaching far greater solidarity. Solidarity means working together towards a common goal or common good even if we have disagreements about the process and outcome of our efforts and work together.  It involves the  “union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples…”

We live in very difficult and challenging times that have become increasingly polarized, divisive, and uncivil. Research from a variety of sources finds that people clearly do not like this path of ours, are completely stressed out by it, and want a more civil, respectful, and comfortable community.  Research also finds that civility and incivility is contagious. Observational learning and behavioral contagion theories inform us that the more everyone does their part to create a community that is not only civil but also hospitable then others will more likely follow suit and help us get to a place of greater solidarity in our communities. Actually, our very survival may depend on it. 

So what do you think? How can we move from civility to hospitality to solidarity…and perhaps do so before it is too late?

Copyright 2018, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP



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