Earlier this month, Huachuca City, Arizona Mayor Ken Taylor refused to “attend a function that is sent to [him] in Spanish/Mexican,” because he was “insulted by the division caused by language.” However, Mayor Taylor’s reaction is divisive unto itself: both American and Mexican mayors were invited to the event to discuss issues that impact communities on both sides of the border. By sending an invitation in both English and Spanish, the event organizers were respecting the native languages of all invitees.
We know first-hand that bringing people together who may disagree on issues can be hard, but utilizing principles of civil discourse — which begin with respect, active listening and understanding — lays a solid foundation for groups that are trying to find solutions.
Civility does not depend only on the words we choose, but also the language we choose. The greatest diplomatic agreements were not hammered out by diplomats refusing to speak any other language but English. Respecting the backgrounds and languages of all participants is essential to civil discourse.
We deserve leaders that champion civility, not overreact to perceived slights. I hope that this example can be used as a lesson for all of us.
This piece originally ran in The Arizona Republic.