Civic vs. Civil Discourse What It Means Today

I looked up civic discourse this morning and read around on a few sites. Here is a summary of what I found.  Civic discourse is the hallmark of our democracy. Americans’ right to free speech as it is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. We have the right to free speech, to speak our minds and share our views, our truth as we see it.  But with that right, we have the responsibility.That is the part we don’t seem to want to honor anymore. Looking on my Facebook wall, the Twitter feeds, the endless stream of comments and responses in social media seem to foster a place of anonymity, thereby creating spaces where hate and anger can thrive with seemingly little to no consequence.  People write from a stream of angry consciousness, there is not give or take. There is no seeing of another side. There are no faces, no way to register the impact of your words. instead the feeds just roll through fast and furious, at the speed of flying fingers across a keyboard. Access to the political process in this way, the feed of information can be empowering, or crippling.

Let me give you an example. When you like something on your Twitter feed or a Facebook post, a computer generated program will begin to post similar tweets or posts. Soon your feed does not represent a wide variety of views but instead, your feed is filled with views of those you agree with, and your world shrinks rather than broadens. You can’t navigate all there is to see out there, so if you are getting your morning news from Facebook or Twitter, know it is streamed to your bias. It is important to recognize that and be purposeful in finding opposing points of view, that is how debate and discourse work. I have friends who refuse to talk to someone who is on the other side of the political spectrum. They won’t listen, won’t engage, and don’t understand why they should. If we don’t listen to opposing views, if our own knee-jerk reaction is to discredit the other side simply because they are the other side, then we are no longer a democracy.

Certainly, there is a difference between civic discourse and civil discourse; Civil discourse is what we aspire to, the idea that Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding. In other words, we can be passionate, we can heatedly disagree, but we don’t cross the line to cruelty, or meanness.And for those who believe one side is more intolerant than the other, I beg to differ with you. I have seen both the far right and far left write each other off and refuse to come to any sort of compromise. The problems we face in this country are real. The solutions are complicated. They are not left or right.

Going after the previous administration’s laws and changes simply because you have the majority is wrong. Not recognizing that our country has fiscal, environmental and security issues that need to be addressed is also equally wrong. No one party has the solution, and our representatives in Washington are just that, our representatives. We voted them in, we can vote them out. That is what makes this country great, but if we don’t step up and stay involved and demand leaders to lead, not just soundbite, to represent what is best for the people, not the party, then we reap what we sow.

Being civil doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you a snowflake, or a liberal idealist or a religious zealot. Neither side owns patriotism or nationalism. I don’t believe either side believes they are destroying America. But if we don’t come back to being civil, then civics is dead.

Joe Kennedy, speaks eloquently about where he believes we need to go as a nation. Yes, he is a politician. Yes, he sounds like an idealist. But maybe, just maybe, we can figure out a way to come together with a broader vision, and begin our discussions on what is possible. Will it take compromise on both sides? Absolutely. But I believe it is possible.

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