The Gustavian Weekly

Let’s Engage in Civil Discourse

By Dan McCrackin - Opinion Columnist | May 12, 2017 | Opinion

On May Day!, Gustavus celebrates and engages in exciting intellectual discourse about a variety of topics.

On May Day!, Gustavus celebrates and engages in exciting intellectual discourse about a variety of topics.

Many people have varied ideas on what is best for themselves and the collective health of humanity. It is because of these varied ideas and interpretations of those ideas that conflict arises and tensions mount. That is also the reason why it is important to emphasize the role of discourse in how ideas are spread.

It is an unfortunate reality that people will often disregard or even completely ignore opinions they disagree with, as well as the people voicing those opinions. Due to this ignorance either one side or the other in an argument can feel minimized and forgotten. At the same time if one voice is louder than the other, say through media, then often neutral parties who wish to learn more on an idea or topic will find themselves bombarded with only the one-sided argument.

Thus the need for civil discourse arises. Not only so that people can hear ideas and the thoughts behind them in a respectful manner, but also so that the two opposing ideas can grow from interaction. Often times there are beneficial aspects to both sides of an argument, as well as aspects that are taken as negatives.

Civil discourse, whether it be between opposing political parties or two scientists debating the next step in an experiment, opens up the way for bi-partisan interpretations of an idea or theory.

Using civil discourse also means there has to be a designated safe space in order for it to take place. A place where there can be no ad hominem attacks that disparage the character of those who are trying to have their ideas respectfully heard, nor the raising of unrelated and distracting issues. There should only be ideas and the facts that surround them.

The response to this is usually that it is impossible to know all the facts and it is necessary to bring in other issues because they might be related. While both these assertions are true, it is impossible to know which other issues will have an impact on the situation at hand.

Discourse of any kind is how people interact on a daily basis and voice opinions, facts, fictions, and, of course, ideas. If that discourse is not maintained in a civil fashion then there is no progress made from either side. The most prominent display of a lack of civil discourse is warfare. Warfare is the final resort when discourse has reached the furthest realm from civil, to such the point that a person or a nation feels that it must emphasize its point with violence because it no longer has anything with which to debate.

This isn’t limited to just the wide scale realm of international relations or government either. Civil discourse also is something that needs to be broached in everyday life, and especially around the Gustavus campus. When someone has an opinion and wishes to express that opinion in the form of conversation or civil disobedience, then it is the duty of the people on campus and the campus authorities themselves to not only hear out but debate with the ones voicing their ideas.

Civil disobedience is something that starts on the small scale and eventually expands to the national one. Without it, then we devolve into violence and aggression.