Civil Discourse

“Whatever happened to class?” – Catherine Zeta Jones (Chicago)

I recently witnessed a group of people being very rude to one another, over something that probably didn’t warrant such aggression or hostility. The incident itself was relatively brief, and only some not-so-nice words were exchanged, but I believe it to be systemic of a much larger problem: People nowadays don’t seem to know how to engage in civil discourse anymore.

Civil discourse is when two or more people have a disagreement, but are able to resolve it without resorting to shouting, insulting, rudeness or hostility in general. The problem I’m seeing is that, when a disagreement occurs, many will jump straight to being angry. They will skip any sort of “formality” involving manners or civility and instantly become annoyed. The way I have always understood it, is that if you want a positive reaction from people or a positive outcome from a situation, you must approach them/it positively. This is not to say that forcefulness and willfulness are not needed, because they are, but they must be tempered with objectivity. If you approach someone who is bothering you and immediately call them an idiot, you are unlikely to get anywhere at all. Instead, if you start with, “excuse me…” or “would you mind terribly…” that shows that you at least are willing to look at a potential disagreement from a reasonable point of view.

Now, it is entirely possible that the civility and sincerity you attempt to show others may not be reciprocated. If that is the case, if you feel being more forceful or asserting your opinions more harshly would be of benefit, then go ahead and try. However, if the disagreement erupts into an argument, then the questions you have to ask yourself are, “is this worth it?” and “what is at stake?” Some people simply are rude — this is a fact, and there is very little chance of that changing. So it is simply not worth it to expend the energy to try. You might as well bash your head against a brick wall for all the good it will do you. What you have you understand is, backing down or abandoning an argument is NOT a sign of weakness. Knowing when to accept defeat can be a sign of strength. If the only thing you’re risking in a disagreement is potentially bruising your ego, then let it be bruised – it will heal.

Another thing to consider is the other person’s position. Are they in the wrong? Are you perhaps being overly sensitive? What is the other person doing that is bothering you? Can you look past it or live with it? Everyone has their own little eccentricities that will bother someone, and some people try very hard to be bothered. What you have to consider is how flexible can you can be. If you can look past whatever the issue is and live with it, or better yet, accept it, it will help teach you tolerance and dealing with your problems rather than stressing over them.

My basic point is this — life is too short to be angry all the time or irritated with everyone. Before you go off half-cocked on an issue, consider how important it is to you, how important it may be to others, and most importantly, try and keep a cool head. If you have a problem with something or someone, try to deal with it in a calm and reasonable manner. Everyone has disagreements; it’s natural and encouraged. But if you can utilize civil discourse when you have a disagreement, I guarantee you — everyone involved will be better off for it.