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Can Average Citizens Can Make Politics More Civil?

Just before the Iowa caucuses last month, long-time NCDD member Carolyn Lukensmeyer of the National Institute for Civil Discourse penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post that we thought was worth sharing here. In it, she discusses the crisis of civility in our politics, and calls on citizens – and especially those of us who work in D&D – to hold politicians and ourselves to higher standards for political conversations. We encourage you to read her piece below or find the original on Huff Post here.

We Need a Civility Revolution

As we draw closer to February 1 and the Iowa Caucuses, the noise level from the presidential campaigns grows louder. The Caucuses are the first step in a lengthy process, and because the stakes in Iowa are so high – a good finish means you keep following the trail to the White House while a bad one can mean it’s all over but the post mortem – both republican and democratic candidates have been raising the volume on the race. On the republican side the attacks are getting more personal, louder and nastier, while on the democratic side, ads on everything from health care to gun control are digging deep lines in the sand between rivals.

America is a great democracy, but it is hard to remember that sometimes these days as we listen to the candidates and their surrogates degrade not only their rivals, but everyone who questions their positions. Throw in the media hype on the latest “he said, she said” and it makes you wonder how we came to this low point. Because it is a low point. Our people are better than our politics – the actual caucuses in Iowa as they have been in years past, will be far more civil than any debate or discussion among the candidates has been.

We need to hold our politicians – whether they are running for president or city council – to the highest of standards. Discussion and disagreement are all part and parcel of our democracy but name calling, race baiting and personal attacks are not. If candidates want our votes, we need to demand they start acting like the leaders they claim to be instead of rewarding them for acting like bullies and braggarts.

And we have to stop agreeing with them when they tell us compromise is for sissies. We are a large, diverse nation and our views – whether we are talking with a neighbor across the street or a relative on the other side of the country – will often differ. No one person nor one party has all the “right” answers so discussion of values and facts, the how and the why, are important. But those discussions can’t move forward in any type of useful manner unless we listen to each other – really listen. It doesn’t mean we have to agree – and it doesn’t mean we won’t state our own case – but we need to act like adults and find the road we can take together to allow America – and all Americans – to move forward.

This past Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King did not believe that loud voices and harsh words would lead to consensus. As Marcy Curtis noted in a Roll Call column titled “Stop Shouting; Start Listening” “…it would also be welcome, revolutionary even, to reflect on and learn from King’s time, when the country was no less divided. Yet there were men, women and children… who made the country better by leading with dignity and unity.”

Revolutionary indeed.

You can find the original version of this Carolyn Lukensmeyer piece in the Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/carolyn-lukensmeyer/we-need-a-civility-revolu_b_9028646.html.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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