Turns out that there’s still some appetite for civil political discourse in an era of, well, incivility.
At least a few of you think so.
A January column (“Tolerance wanes for opposing views”) in this space sparked a collective “amen” from some kindred spirits in Frankfort and, better yet, formation of a new public discussion group — Ripped from the Headlines: A Civil Civic Conversation — that will gather for the first time Monday night at Paul Sawyier Public Library.
When I lamented growing incivility in my February column, new friends Gene Coverston and Jessi Miller had been a step ahead of me, using social media to promote dialog across partisan boundaries. Their gatherings turned out mostly to be a “party of two,” but their conversations — Gene on the right side of the ideology spectrum and Jessi on the left — were so enjoyable that they asked for my help in expanding the circle.
That led to a conversation with Diane Dehoney and Donna Gibson at the library, which they volunteered as an enthusiastic partner and host. Ted and Ronda Sloan, who lead a Sunday School class at Bridgeport Christian Church that’s focused largely on discussion of current events, took Gene up on her request to be our discussion group’s facilitators. They even let us borrow “Ripped from the Headlines” from their class’ name.
After a couple of months of planning, we’ve set the first session for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the library. The discussion topic will be U.S. immigration policy. The group will convene each first Monday thereafter, choosing a different topic each month. July’s discussion will be on health care and August’s on freedom of speech and censorship.
Anyone interested in civil discourse about controversial topics is encouraged to attend. The goal isn’t to change hearts or minds but to foster respect for divergent viewpoints in an era when folks seem to want only affirmation of their opinions rather than enlightenment on how others think. If attendees find some common ground on hot-button issues, that’s a fine outcome, but there’s value, we believe, simply in the conversation.
If you’re a liberal who thinks that all conservatives are evil, or a conservative who believes that all liberals are plotting to destroy Western civilization as we know it, or a centrist who’s convinced that both sides are nutty, this is probably not the discussion group for you. There are plenty of places, including the cable “news” networks and their nightly gabfests, to find your brand of ideological purity and confirm your worldview.
But if you’re a little bored by communities in which everybody thinks just like you think, or you find some enjoyment and intellectual stimulation in listening to diverse perspectives, come on out to the library Monday night. The conversation will be enriched by your presence.
Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.