We find ourselves at a crossroads right now. A crossroads exposing bitter and polarized political divides. We will have to work to find ways to create consensus and broad support for our system to function effectively. Engaging in conversations across these divides helps us find common ground and moves our country toward a stronger democracy.
Our research shows that the use of Civil Discourse, or civil civic engagement skills, is the most effective way to accomplish this goal. Civil Discourse is courteous, constructive communication characterized by mutual respect, openness and attentive listening. It helps people bridge divides and facilitates the informed discussion of public issues essential for government bodies and citizens to make good decisions.
The LWVDV Civic Engagement Committee works to provide citizens with access to the information, skills, and resources they need to play an active role in this civic engagement. For information about our activities, see the Civic Engagement Committee page.
What is Civil Discourse?
- A way to exercise our First Amendment rights effectively.
- A willingness to respectfully listen to someone else’s opinion – someone who might not share your views - with an open mind and with curiosity to understand their experience, ideas and values and with the expectation that they will do the same for you.
- A willingness to be equal partners in the conversation, where the time is shared equally and no one dominates.
- A willingness to search for common ground based on facts and shared values
- The ability to disagree without being disrespectful, so that you have a deeper understanding of the values you share so you can find common ground.
- A debate with winners and losers
- Giving up or caving in
- About waiting politely with a retort
- An attack on free speech
What Are Civil Discourse Skills?
Civil Discourse skills are simple guidelines for speaking effectively so you can be heard and so that your perspectives can be clearly understood.
- BE RESPECTFUL: Behave courteously in public forums. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Remember that democracy requires input from each of us to be successful.
- LISTEN WITH AN OPEN MIND: Ask questions, be curious about some else’s life experience, try to understand their perspective, don’t interrupt or challenge.
- SPEAK UP AND SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE: Take responsibility for your perspective and explain it clearly and non-judgmentally. Be a strong, confident, well-informed advocate. Explain the rationale and evidence to support your opinions.
- FIND COMMON GROUND: Challenge, discuss, argue and defend issues. Keep an open mind. Challenge stereotypes or unclear information. Look for shared values and common interests. Be open to compromise.
Misinformation and disinformation can polarize public opinion, reduce trust in the democratic process, and result in a breakdown in civil discourse. To learn how to spot misinformation/disinformation and tips on how to help stop it, see Misinformation and Disinformation - What You Need to Know.
Civil Discourse Resources
- What is Civil Discourse? (LWVDV pdf)
- National Institute for Civil Discourse
- Braver Angels
- National Conversation Project
- Listen First Project
- The Flip Side
- National Conflict Resolution Center
We all have a part to play in keeping our democracy vital and responsive. Your participation is needed, welcome and important! Please join us to help facilitate more civic engagement and make it an enjoyable and satisfying exercise for all of us. Contact us at civic.engagement [at] lwvdv.org for more information.