January 20, 2011 | by Peter Rosenstein
The lost art of civil discourse

As we watched the funerals of those gunned down in Tucson, and continued to pray for the recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others injured there, we must begin to turn the page and focus on the future.

As a nation we must determine what we will do that will have both a lasting impact and honor the memory of that tragic day. Static memorials or plaques are not enough. We need to find a way to remember the fallen and the injured that could actually change lives.

We need to do this not as Democrats, Republicans or independents, but as President Obama said so eloquently, “As part of the American family, which is 300 million strong.” We are a nation that was born out of war, survived a civil war, and moved on from civil rights riots and anti-war demonstrations. We are a nation that has seen our fair share of death and destruction in the name of freedom. But we are also a nation that continues to prove to the world every few years that a peaceful transfer of power in government can happen. We are a nation of strong and diverse individuals who strive to survive and prosper.

Today, as in times of tragedy in the past, we must take the opportunity to look at ourselves anew. Take a moment to stand back and look into our own consciences and determine how we can be better individuals and then collectively a better people. We must ask what it is that we can do that will make us better.

We need to find ways to teach our children to be better people. Maybe the place to start is to teach about our Constitution, that glorious document that has guided us as a nation for more than 200 years. While we may differ on how to read it, some believing it is a guideline and meant to be a living breathing document and others reading it as a strict construction of beliefs that we must abide by, we all agree it is an amazing document.

Then we must teach our children that life is a series of experiences, some good, some not so good and others very bad. We must teach them that sometimes bad things do happen to good people. Teach them that life requires of us to share this planet with a great diversity of people both those with whom we share beliefs and those whose beliefs differ from ours. And show them by our actions that the way to do that peacefully is to respect each other. We are not called on to agree with each other but we must respect each other. We must teach our children that violence is not the way to solve problems. We need to teach them how to have civil discourse and to argue and debate with others in a way that still allows us to live together in harmony once the debate is over.

To do this we aren’t required to change our beliefs but just maybe we can change how we verbalize and present them. Maybe we can all refrain from using violent terms in public discourse and find more civil language to use in debate.

That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t use terms like “targeted for defeat” when talking about a politician, as that term has various colloquial definitions and meanings. But maybe we could refrain from using targets or gun sights as the indicators on a map. Maybe it is time to once again have debate classes and clubs in all our schools, from elementary school on, to teach children how to debate each other in civil ways — something that appears to be a lost art.

Today some people think that all occasions and issues call for dramatic quotes and images like Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty or give me death.” But in reality few things demand that we go so far. There are few things that are really life and death in the political arena or in everyday life. And no one can deny that some on all sides of the political spectrum and many media personalities have dramatized issues using bombast rather than civil reasoned discussion.

It is time to turn the page, and make a commitment to talk to each other civilly, debate the crucial issues of the day in reasonable and reasoned ways. Maybe that could be our lasting monument to those who died in Tucson.

1 Comment
  • This evil lunatic was not politically motivated and I don’t think that the state of discourse in Congress caused him to murder. He is on the record as hating Bush yet he shot a Democrat. I think he just was a nut a la the Va Tech killer. Let’s just all hope that the Congress woman can make it back to a normal life.

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