The Value of Positive Civil Discourse in Making a More Perfect Union

Recently, I have been thinking about the nature, and value of, positive civil discourse while equally pondering the benefits of positive, nonviolent, civil disobedience. In our global village, we notice that few individuals and groups (of the billions of citizens on the planet), are choosing to express discontent and dissonance with political and governmental policies by engaging in violent demonstrations that often result in lost lives.

Even though opposing expressions to political ideologies and policies unnamedare not new, possibly, it is time to review and re-educate ourselves, and others, on the value of civil discourse, broadening our understandings,  and nonviolent civil disobedience that can also result in positive social change without the loss of human lives.

As long as there have been individuals and groups, there have also been disagreements-and sometimes violence to resolve those disagreements.  Some would argue, as societies continue to evolve technologically, it is equally important to help individuals and communities to develop their capacities for civil discourse, by recommending positive social actions that increase civil engagement, improve emotional intelligence, enhance the quality of life, and augment our understanding of global interdependence.

Many of us remember studying American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and reading his 1849 thesis Civil Disobedience in which he contemplated the nature of civil disobedience–highlighting, in his opinion, the right of the individual to resist government action or policies that were blatantly against an individual’s moral values or conscience.  Thoreau’s notion, and practice of, positive civil disobedience eventually resulted in his being arrested for not paying a poll tax.  Thoreau resisted the tax because  it conflicted with his conscience.  He believed that the funds generated from the tax would be used to finance the Mexican War, a campaign which he vehemently opposed.  Thoreau, further, saw the war as a means to expand slave territories in the United States, and he considered such an immoral undertaking.

unnamed-1From Thoreau’s thesis it appears that he is not arguing for no government, but that he is imagining a “State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it…” Even though it was penned over 100 years ago, Thoreau’s thesis reflects conflicts we continue to struggle with today.  He states further, “It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.”

Without a doubt, America, and our global communities, have certainly changed a great deal since Thoreau’s thesis.  According to historians of civil disobedience, there have been many more examples of civil disobedience in which people, or movements, have changed policies and improved living conditions for communities, by employing varying degrees of civil disobedience to effect positive social outcomes.

Although they are too numerous to name, some prominent civil disobedience involved Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869-1948), for his role in leading India to independence; Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), for his role in leading the nation’s peaceful Civil Rights Movement until his assassination; Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) for his role in organizing a labor union to protect the rights of workers; Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) for his role in protesting apartheid which, after his imprisonment of nearly 30 years, eventually led to world recognition, a Nobel Peace Prize, and anti-apartheid improvements; and many more individuals–known and unknown–who have led and continue to inspire non-violent civil disobedience.NOT_hate_Fotor

So, what does this tell us as leaders of organizations, communities, and families?  Some might argue that it is our responsibility to ensure that students, and developing adults, are exposed to stories of non-violent civil disobedience–hopefully to counterbalance the other reports of more violent ways to resolve conflicts that are broadcasted via various news and entertainment media.

As managers of businesses and observers of interpersonal interactions, there are daily opportunities for us to model civil engagement, civil discourse, and decision-making that demonstrates the value of engagement of a broad range of individuals and appreciation of more diverse perspectives. As leaders, we can not only listen to diverse opinions and solutions with respect and understanding, but we can also help others recognize the value of diverse viewpoints.

Ultimately, the family is probably the first place to form meaningful viewpoints about the individual’s responsibilities in society. Possibly Jackson-2_Fotorconversations that occur in family worlds should also encompass strategies for supporting and expressing disagreement in civil and non-violent ways.  Because the family is the basic building block of society, when families actively promote listening, tolerance, civil discourse, and awareness of other cultures, they offer a strong foundation for productive civil discourse and nonviolent positive social action in our larger global communities.

As leaders–be it in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, or anywhere on our Earth–it is our critical responsibility to help each other work towards truly forming a more perfect union, the intention stated in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, thesis, 1849

Special thanks to Geri R. Vital, MA

Let Us Give Our Families the Gift of Tolerance For The Holiday Season

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Happy Holidays!
We say that phrase often during this time of the year.

Many of us attend, with our families, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other “places of worship” during the Holiday Season. Visiting these places of worship is a good thing, I guess–if it is more than a ritual or another box to check because we have been told we are supposed to do such.

Holiday Season 2014, many of us notice an undeniable undercurrent of unrest and intolerance in America, and other places of the world. Peace and civil discourse seem to be eroding, and some citizens believe they must take to the streets to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. Whether we are watching protests marches, vitriolic political campaigns, the frenzy over Ebola, viewing violent acts around the world, or interacting with persons in our community–one thing is sure–we need the gift of understanding and tolerance in our communities, cities, in America, and in many places in the world.

Like most fundamental orientations, the gift of tolerance probably begins in the smaller units of “family worlds”–in the conversations that parents have with their children and the examples they set when interacting with people who seem to be different from them.

From my perspective, there are at least a few basic essentials needed for giving the lifelong gift of tolerance that can be taught in our family worlds:

• Expanding the family’s knowledge base about other people, their lives, opinions and ethnic origins, by viewing them from numerous and historical perspectives. Do not assume….

•Treating other individuals and families as we would like others to treat us and our families (almost all organized religions profess this ethic of reciprocity).

•Gathering facts, from different perspectives, and discussing them in our families before rushing to generalizations or judgments.

So, Happy Holidays and spread the gift of tolerance in our families this season and into 2015. Such a gift will improve the well-being of all Americans, and it will be the gift that keeps on giving!