One Way to Help Revive Civility and Respect

David Leonhardt’s piece in Tuesday’s New York Times, “A Summer Project to Nourish Your Political Soul,” should be required reading for all Americans. He recommends that each of us pick an issue or three that has us torn or which leaves us wondering which side we truly agree with, study it and see if we find things that change our mind on it.

This is sound advice and my hope is that we all take him up on his challenge. Today’s political polarization has driven many of us to “double down on all our views” as Leonhardt puts it, despite the fact we may have our own concerns or questions with them. By digging into an issue or two we have the time to study both sides’ arguments, and we can go looking for answers to our own questions while learning what others think and why.

By learning more ourselves we may find that our views change — they may soften or they may be bolstered by what we find. But the important takeaway from Leonhardt’s suggestion is that it will leave us better informed, better able to state our own views in a civil manner as well as help us to understand people with views different from our own.

Image sitting down with a neighbor who has disagreed with you on a particular issue for years. You both have followed Leonhardt’s advice and have a discussion based on something more than a few sound bites. You are both armed with facts and figures, and you might surprise yourself by finding common ground on one or two things or coming up with another option on as issue that you both think is a better path forward. For more ideas on how you can help revive civility in your community, check out the National Institute for Civil Discourse’s website to join their national Revive Civility campaign.

Washington, many state capitals and TV talking heads sometimes leave us feeling like there simply is no point in asking questions and that looking for common ground isn’t worth the time because there is none. While it may seem that way, we have the ability to create change based on mutual agreement that something isn’t working and needs to be changed. But to do so we need to look at the facts, listen to those who disagree (and they need to listen as well) and look at ways we can forge a path forward for a better outcome. There is no room left for ‘my way or the highway’. It doesn’t produce good policy and generally leaves us no further ahead than where we started.

Leonhardt’s approach requires us all to do our homework, to look at an issue from all sides and be willing to sit down and work through the areas of difference. Too many times in this “my way or the highway” world we find ourselves in, we throw out needed changes in policy because no one is willing to move off some arbitrary line.

No one person, group or political party has all the answers. We need to spend more time focused on finding a path forward instead of retreating to our corners and resorting to name calling because we refuse to do anything if we can’t have it our way.