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The art of civility

My nieces – Tiffany & Kirsten Dunia helping with my article this week

“It takes more courage to be civil than to bellow fits of anger”

Last week’s article focused on the right of free speech and what that may or may not include. If you’ve been paying any attention to the news or social media, there can be no doubt that the art of civility has clearly taken a back seat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a political discussion or someone posting a selfie, comments quickly turn into angry, loathing, or vile rhetoric. It’s almost as though the more infuriating the dialogue becomes, that is what measures the strength of the argument.

Let’s pause for a few minutes and see if there are advantages to establishing more civility in the conversation.

Everyone wants to be treated with courtesy and politeness. When any hostility shows up in the conversation, the normal tendency is to become defensive. If neither party makes an effort to change the dynamic, the conversation will gradually become divisive and be fueled with scornful and disparaging remarks.

In stark contrast to this style of argument are debate competitions. They have become quite popular and I’ve solicited the assistance of my two nieces, Tiffany and Kirsten Dunia, who both were on high school debate teams. I was curious to know first if there were rules specifically against name-calling and using derogatory comments about opponents.

Kirsten Dunia – Team Debate Policy Coach

“There are no specific rules against it,” Kirsten mentioned. “But a judge can vote against you for name calling or belittling your opponent rather than focusing on the argument.”

Tiffany added, “The idea is to use a sound argument and that type of rhetoric can only detract from your point.”

Tiffany Dunia – Actress, Model, Voice-over artist

They both agreed that one of the most difficult things to do was to keep your composure when your opponent was making outrageous or inflammatory remarks but that doing so, would, in the end give you an advantage.

It isn’t enough to say that something is “very great” or “the best ever” without giving any basis for why that was said. Debates are judged on content, clarity, and being able to point out flaws and erroneous points of your opponent. While belittling and mocking the competition are not addressed in the rules, debaters know and assume there is a strong possibility of being disqualified for using these and other unethical behaviors. Ultimately, debates are more about effective communication and learning persuasive tools in a way that still respectfully regards differing points of view.

Outside of a debate, those using belittling tactics do so because they have no substance behind their ideas. Simply attacking or bullying an opponent is a glaring indication that there is no thought, preparation, or intelligence behind your juvenile whim. It is more akin to a spat from a sixth-grade playground and frankly, is not welcomed there either.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of someone who unfortunately is able to make fun of someone. While it may be welcomed at a comedy club or some outlandish television show, it clearly needs to be disregarded and rejected by anyone attempting to be in a position of leadership and those deciding who their leader will be.

My thanks again to Kirsten and Tiffany. Kirsten is a graduate of Northwestern College in athletic training with the goal of becoming a Physical Therapist. She is also currently a Team Policy Debate Coach. Tiffany is focusing her debating skills on becoming an actress, model and voice-over artist. I’m certainly proud to be their uncle. Thanks and as always, I look forward to your comments.

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