bottling civility

Civil Discourse: Community Flavor

Have you looked at the comment section on any controversial topic on the internet lately? Some of the words there can burn the hair right off your head. How in the world can we have a polite conversation on a controversial topic with people in our community who think so differently than we do, who speak such fiery words? To put out that fire I have brewed a batch of civil discourse—community flavor. Let me share the ingredients with you.

·         Listen well. When you talk to someone in your community about a tough topic, you may know little about them. For a polite conversation to take place, you must listen well with a desire to understand so that you know where that person is coming from. Not a passive or simply silent participant, the good listener actively seeks to know the other person's perspective. (James 1:19)

·         Ask questions. Include questions in your batch of civil discourse to clarify the other person’s viewpoint. Even if their view and yours seem completely opposite, questions can reveal some things you agree on, some desires or values beneath the surface that you both share or understand. 

·         Reply gently and respectfully. Heaping quantities of gentleness and respect, without name-calling, make your batch of civil discourse palatable. Leave those ingredients out of the recipe and your discourse will be bitter. (Phil. 4:5)

·         Give up the trophy. The winner of a wrestling match gets a trophy. Civil discourse, though, is not about winning. Civil discourse looks for common ground and builds on it. It allows both participants to move a little bit closer in their perspectives. It begins a process. So leave the trophy out of your batch of civil discourse—no one will drink it if there are chunks of metal in it, anyway. 

Brew up a batch of civil discourse and pass around the mugs at your next community discussion. And while you are at it, check out Civil Discourse—Family Flavor posted on Feb. 8, 2017, and Civil Discourse—Church Flavor posted on Mar. 8, 2017.

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for decades, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston, attended Dallas Theological Seminary and is committed to life-long learning.