We need to extol spirit of civility on college campuses Are we teaching our young people to be strong and fair, to live fulfilled lives of courage, integrity, leadership, imagination and creativity? Are we teaching them to communicate effectively, to believe in themselves enough so that they have tools to disagree respectfully and even to be flexible enough to change their minds when necessary?
I find myself wondering about the tone of discourse that is a part of all of our lives. It appears to me that in the world today many important discussions quickly lose focus, becoming extreme, unconstrained and turbulent, uncivil and unkind, where winning seems to be the primary goal. Winning what?
Currently in the United States, we have few examples of how to disagree respectfully. We have not modeled this skill well for our young adults. It is not easy to clearly state points of disagreement, carefully examine important beliefs on both sides and find ways to work with our adversaries to find areas of common ground. It seems to me that those who learn to listen as well as speak, pay attention to what other people are saying and why they are saying it, somehow manage to build bridges, stay connected and create deeper, more meaningful, trusted relationships. The conflict becomes an opportunity for growth; a vehicle for building understanding.
Many of our children are privileged to attend institutions of higher education. Our college campuses are designed to provide rigorous education and to push our young adults to become broad minded, global citizens and discerning thinkers.
In spite of the goals of higher education, many campuses are also becoming places of uncivil discourse. Increasingly, pockets of students are empowered and more interested in creating uncivil dialogue than in finding ways to explore issues and respect diversity. These issues range from racial, to sexual orientation and religious beliefs, to disagreements about housing, sports team conflicts, differences with teachers and even arguments amongst the students themselves.
What have we taught our children about recognizing that the world is filled with conflict and about different viewpoints, many of them valuable, even if they are not ours? Perhaps we have not taught them well enough. We have not instilled within them an appreciation of the spirit of civility, the importance of finding ways to move forward together. We have not taught them that polarization weakens us all. Our example of incivility is not one they should follow. A moment of truth is upon us. We have work to do. College students of today will be the leaders of our future.
At least one organization, The National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC), a non-profit organization based in San Diego since 1983, is focused on teaching practical communication and conflict management skills on several campuses in San Diego. NCRC, in partnership with our local universities, is leading the way to support a brave agenda for sincere, constructive dialogue. (Learn more at www.ncrconline.com)
We need to set an example for our students to show them that civil discourse is an important part of their education. We need to make civility a priority for our students and for us.