Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Civility, Discourse, and Kindness

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a classroom where the teacher shared her professional goals with the class. She feels compelled to teach them about Civil Discourse -- to be active, responsible, and polite speakers and listeners -- before they leave high school.

I have been thinking about and observing that ever since.

We have learned how to be confrontational, at times downright defiant, in our communication. We become easily defensive, and we tend to personalize opinions of others rather than discussing them. People with whom we disagree, we don't like. And, often times that isn't enough: we then need to ensure we disrespect them and encourage others to dislike them too.

Why can't we just agree we are not going to like everyone and move on?

I have some specific examples that have been weighing on my mind.

As we were preparing for a Veterans' Day Assembly, I noticed several students with their hats and hoods on. Most students, when asked, quickly removed their hats and put them away. One, with a hood, did this instead. As he was removing his hood, he quickly replaced it with a stocking hat. When I asked him to take off his hat, saying "We don't allow hats in the auditorium", his response to me was, "Did you hear what you just said?" I looked at him again and said, "We don't allow people to wear hats in the auditorium". He said, "That's better", and took off his hat, which had been hiding his headphones. I asked him to remove his headphones as well. The boy talked during much of the assembly. After it was over, he and two of his friends attempted to skip off campus. I redirected them, but they found another way.

I'm still quite surprised that he didn't understand the importance of being respectful, especially during an assembly honoring our Veterans.

It's exhausting.

Earlier in the day, I walked into a classroom and a student looked up at me and shook his head. When I sat next to him to ask what was up, he denied shaking his head. It's quite possible he did not realize he had done it. It's become acceptable, even honorable, to disrespect people in positions of authority.


For these two kids, I am confident they don't like me because I address their misbehavior. I can live with being disliked. It is frustrating to be disrespected, particularly because it happens on a daily basis.

As I have reflected on these interactions through the lens of civility, discourse, and kindness, I truly want to talk to each of them to try to understand the answer to the question, Why do they feel it's acceptable to be defiant and disrespectful?

But then again, it shouldn't surprise me.

On the news, on Facebook, in conversation, people have no problem disrespecting our public leaders. It's not enough to disagree with their political views, their decisions, their party, people blatantly and openly disrespect our leaders.

Every day.

If a republican is in a position of leadership, the vocal democrats will openly disrespect him, and vice versa.

We don't take time to learn about candidates. We dehumanize them, often strictly on party lines. It is rare that we engage in open, civil dialogue to listen and understand, even if we disagree.

Especially if we disagree.

For me, I will work on how I confront defiance and disrespect. I will understand that for many of the children today, it's all they know, because that is what we, our society, is teaching them. But more than that, I will work to engage in civil discourse, be an active listener, and help plant the seeds of compassion and democratic values so that the fabric of our society can start to mend.

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