Holiday season Ten Commandments for the civil conversations
Dr. Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" (Abingdon Press, 2017) and Program Director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.
The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes celebrations, reunions, and in many cases, many opinions. Navigating civic discussions may seem daunting with the current highly polarized national and international political landscape. However, it's essential to leverage this time of year to engage in meaningful conversations on pressing issues with family, friends, and even adversaries.
Society benefits from open exchanges of ideas, as it fosters growth and understanding among individuals. To ensure these exchanges are respectful, inclusive, and productive, the following are some commandments or guidelines for hosting constructive civic discussions during your holiday gatherings.
1. Thou shalt set ground rules: Encourage everyone present to adhere to broad principles such as respect, empathy, and active listening. Establishing an environment where everyone feels safe to share their views without fear of judgment or attack is vital to nurturing fruitful conversations.
2. Thou shalt find common ground: Before delving into contentious issues, it is helpful to identify shared values or interests. Recognizing mutual goals can facilitate cooperation and mutual understanding instead of antagonism.
3. Thou shalt focus on the issues: Discuss the underlying topics rather than getting entangled in ad hominem attacks or sensationalized narratives. Avoid attacking one another's character or political affiliations - they only derail the conversation from finding standard solutions.
4. Thou shalt avoid presumptions: We all wear different lenses through which we interpret the world; appreciating those differences will open pathways for genuine dialogue. Approach each discussion with curiosity and humility - resist imposing our assumptions onto others.
5. Thou shalt practice active listening: Give others the space to express themselves by listening with concentration and responding genuinely rather than waiting for gaps to interject our opinions. Active listening demonstrates respect and acknowledges their perspective's validity.
6. Thou shalt foster compassion: Demonstrating empathy towards others' perspectives can be transformative, dissolving barriers and encouraging unity. Acknowledge emotions that discussions can evoke, and work together to find resolutions rooted in shared well-being.
7. Thou shalt incorporate inclusive language: To ensure everyone feels valued, use language that respects diverse cultural backgrounds, experiences, and sensitivities.
8. Thou shalt agree to disagree: Civility doesn't necessarily mean reaching a consensus on every subject but ensuring that differing opinions are respected and don't hinder relationships. Accept that disagreements will arise, and explore lessons learned from these differences.
9. Thou shalt cultivate emotional intelligence: Gauge the room for emotional cues and adjust conversations to maintain a respectful environment. Please pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal signals as they reflect the comfort level of participants.
10. Thou shalt encourage continuous dialogue: Offer space for ongoing discussion in everyday life rather than reserving contentious conversations for special occasions. Consistently engaging in open dialogue establishes healthy habits and nurtures productive conversation within your circle.
By implementing these respectful practices in your gatherings, you can encourage respectful, enlightening exchanges while minimizing conflict. The outcome? A better understanding of our communities' challenges and the shared responsibility to build bridges of empathy, respect, and cooperation to pursue collective solutions.