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Passionate Yet Civil Discourse

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We, as Americans, cherish the freedom and right to disagree—which we do, often deeply about important issues that need resolution. But polarization undermines that freedom by tightening prejudices rather than opening thought, thus diminishing the chances for finding resolutions and moving forward.  So while polarization may feel like a righteous champion of freedom and right, it is in fact just the opposite—a stick jammed in the spokes of the democratic discourse of freedom. Here are some of the common ways it does it:

  1. SEDUCES with loaded, heated language and childish name-calling that appeals more to emotion that reason.
  2. BLINKERS by using cherry-picked facts, and ignoring or mocking opposing arguments and evidence rather than actually addressing them.
  3. TRIVIALIZES by focusing on “straw-man” issues whose value in re-enforcing biases is clearly greater than their substance.
  4. BULLIES by making you feel like a dupe or a traitor if you even listen to the other side.
  5. FLATTERS with language and a tone that makes you feel like an insider, who, of course, agrees with them because you “get it” … just like they do.
  6. FRIGHTENS by portraying the other side as not just wrong, but a dangerous, evil enemy, replete with wicked hidden agendas.
  7. “CLANS,” that is, plays the “us vs. them” identity politics game of associating the other view with groups or people (implicitly) “inferior” to “us.”
  8. “TRIBES” by using the knowing winks and nods of sarcasm, coded language, words in quotes (suggesting they’re misleading) and innuendo which you, as a member of the tribe, of course, will understand without explanation or justification.

This week…with polarizers doing all they can to stir emotions with name-calling, snide language and suggestive accusations, it’s easy to be seduced into their vortex of contempt and rage, and lose sight of the fact that there are ways to be passionate about politics that are productive rather than simply divisive – that inspire thought as well as enflame emotion. A great example can be found on You Tube, in the classic 1969 TV debate between conservative William Buckley and liberal Noam Chomsky (who, ironically, leads off our polarizing list below). No two people could have been more passionate about their vehemently opposing views. But wherever you stand, it’s well worth the hour to watch as they both acknowledge and (struggle to) check and channel their emotions to keep the discussion focused, moving forward and in the service of winning over not just hearts, but minds as well. What a wonderful one-hour course in the kind of passionate but civil discourse we so desperately need today. When reading these examples, check the above list and ask yourself: regardless of whether you agree or disagree, is this really advancing an intelligent resolution through the persuasive, rational arguments of advocacy…or simply fueling the fire of conflict through the divisive, emotional manipulations of polarization?

Here are some of the week’s most polarizing articles, from the left and right:

More to explore

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