National Civil Discourse Day – September 11, 2010

June 1st, 2010

By Dr. Jim Taylor

In two recent posts, I expressed significant concern for the increasingly angry and mean-spirited tone that our politicosphere has taken on in recent years and the corrosive effect it is having on our political system (here and here).

Today, I would like to offer a first step in reversing the current descent of our discourse into political and social hell.

I am proposing a National Civil Discourse Day (NCDD) for September 11, 2010 (and celebrated annually). I changed the date from September 15th because the tragedy of 9/11 had one short-lived upside: Americans put their partisanship and rigid ideologies aside and joined together to act as one people — Americans — united against a common threat. Perhaps the emotions and sense of unity and purpose evoked on 9/11 will motivate people who participate in the politicosphere to honor NCDD the way Americans honor 9/11.

The goal of National Civil Discourse Day is for everyone in all forms of media, from Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on the Left to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on the Right on down to the most anonymous members of the politicosphere, to commit to a day of respectful and substantive discourse.

Hopefully, the NCDD will raise awareness and show people that America will be better and stronger if we can have respectful debate about our differences in ways that foster consensus (even if that means just agreeing to disagree) and produce beneficial solutions.

But the real goal isn’t just to raise awareness, but rather to shape a new standard of acceptable behavior in the politicosphere that will guide people in how they engage in politically heated conversations. Here are my first thoughts on some guidelines for NCDD:

  • Discuss only substantive issues.
  • Don’t express opinion as fact.
  • Avoid ideological talking points.
  • Avoid personal insults, name calling, and demonization of others.
  • Listen.
  • Be open minded.
  • Look for common ground.
  • Stay calm.
  • Learn something from those with whom you debate.

Please post your guideline suggestions in the Comments section and I will collate and publish them in a later post.

But to make NCDD happen, I need your help in getting it to go viral. Here is what I am asking of you:

1. Email this post to every relevant web site that you visit asking them to post it, link it, or write a story about it.

2. Email this post to every local and national television, print, and radio news outlet you can think of (all have some sort of ‘news tips’ email address).

3. Email this post to everyone you know who enters the politicosphere and ask #1 of them.

4. If you are a blogger, write a post about NCDD.

5. If you run a blog site, link or reprint this post.

6. Facebook, tweet, digg or send this post to one of your other favorite social media (anything to send NCDD into cyberspace!).

7. Can someone with greater skills than I create web site in support of the NCDD?

It wouldn’t seem difficult to get NCDD to catch fire because just about anyone who follows the news regularly has a “gag me!” experience in which they see, hear, read, or are a victim of the current politicosphere’s culture of anger and vitriol.

Is it possible to return civility to our political conversations? I don’t know, but I think that, for the sake of our country, it is worth a try. Just one question. Are you willing to help?

Join National Civil Discourse Day on Facebook and spread the word!

(This article was also published at Dr. Jim Taylor’s Blog.)


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10 Responses to “National Civil Discourse Day – September 11, 2010”



  1. larry ennis |

    I will in the interest of civility, say only that your’s is a bad idea. Simply another case of you trying to make me understand and except your views. Liberals I have met are always to busy teaching me the folly of my ways to really listen to what I have to say.


  2. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Larry: That seems really cynical. Are you a mind reader? Can you see my intentions? Obviously not, because my only intention and interest is just what I say in the post. You’re also generalizing from a group to an individual, again, more mind reading and presumptions.

    It looks to me like you are the one being close minded to an idea that seems pretty reasonable.

    Said with all due respect for your beliefs.


  3. Kevin |

    Me thinks Larry was being deliberately ironic since his three sentences manage to violate virtually every one of the good doctor’s bullit point guidelines. A feat so concisely pulled off that it seems unlikely to be coincidence.

    Of course I could be wrong about that, but doubt that I am.

    That said… I would be happy to reprint this post at my blog and see if that gets some reaction. Then maybe I’ll run it up the flag pole on my Facebook account too.

    I do know that one of my old writers, before she stopped writing last year, expressed deep frustration at the level of uncivil discourse in American politics. I don’t think she reads the blog any more but she is one of my FB friends and I’m curious as to how/whether she’ll react.

    Good idea, Dr!


  4. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Kevin: Much appreciated. Let me know what happens.

    BTW, I’m heading up to Mt. Hood for some work in the last half of June. Definitely God’s country up there!


  5. Dan Miller |

    Jim,

    It is an appealing idea and I hope it works. Skeptic that I am, however, I suspect it may turn into one more finger pointing contest, with all teams trying to bash the rest for ideological reasons.

    There is a whole lot of that going around, and here are some recent examples. The left finds the right outrageous and incredibly stupid, and the right returns the compliment, often substituting “elite” for “stupid.”


  6. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Dan: You are so right! I’ve already been jumped all over on my past at sfgate.com. Misinterpreted my intentions. Gosh, I thought this was one post that everyone could wrap their arms around. I guess it just shows how everything we read is filtered through the lens of our ideology. Doesn’t bode well for the future.


  7. Dan Miller |

    Jim,

    Maybe a tad off topic but not completely: We have four very lovable/loving dogs and 99.99% of the time they are good friends and playmates. On rare occasion, however, there will be a dispute when the pecking order is challenged. There is a very clear pecking order, with a three year old Akita bitch (Sunshine, who weighs about seventy pounds) at the top, her six months older half sister next, a timid and not very bright male next and a sweet, small bitch (the mother of the male) at the bottom. Such challenges are rare and when they occur are normally resolved with civility by a muted growl. On three occasions over the past four years, however, there have been dog fights in which I felt I had to intervene to keep one of the dogs from seriously injuring the other. That can be very dangerous to do because once a real confrontation erupts, all canine restraint vanishes and injury, perhaps severe, can easily result. Last week, I found it necessary to step in and try to control a rapidly deteriorating situation. I got a deep bite about ¾ inch from an artery in my left wrist and a bunch of less significant bites on my hand. After finally kicking (literally) the principal offender out of the house, my wife and I tended to the wound which was bleeding profusely. With generous and frequent application of an excellent topical antibiotic, all turned out well.

    When we let Sunshine back in the house, she came to me with her ears back and head down, adopting a very submissive posture; she knew she had done wrong, and seemed to want to apologize. I of course accepted and hugged her. Here is a good website on dealing with dog fights; in future, I will take the advice offered there. As the author notes, two

    animals in the middle of a fight are in survival drive. If they see you at all, they don’t look at you as their loving owner. When you charge in and grab them they either react out of a fight reflex and bite, or they see you as another aggressor. When they are in fight or flight mode they will bite you. You can take that to the bank.

    The author’s advice on breaking up dog fights probably would not work with people in an ideological battle, but might be fun to try. It requires two people, who grab the opponents by the hind legs, pull them apart while swinging them in circles. The problem is that once on a roll, there is also a human tendency to keep going with little more thought than a dog gives to peaceful conflict resolution once the survival drive or something similar takes control.


  8. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Dan: Actually, quite apropos. And I have on my list of upcoming posts to write is one about how the blogosphere triggers in us our most basic survival instincts, notably, as you suggest, the fight-or-flight response.

    Obviously, physical survival is not at stake in the blogosphere, but somehow ideological or self-esteem survival is at stake, otherwise there wouldn’t be such vehement reactions (fight response).

    The term insecurity used to have a physical focus, i.e., one’s existence becomes insecure. That insecurity is now about psychological or emotional existence.

    A great insight!

    More on that later.


  9. Tom Carter |

    Jim, I agree that NCDD is a great idea, and I’ll spread it around as much as I can. However, I’m not sure that it will amount to much with the likes of Olbermann, Maddow, Limbaugh, and Beck, not to mention other extremists on both sides who aren’t interested in civil discourse, open-mindedness, and facts they disagree with (cf. Larry’s comment).


  10. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    Tom, thanks for your help, but I’m starting to agree with you (and others). I think my idea is great in theory (hey, I’m an idealist!), but probably not practical in the real world.

    Oh well, as Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz, “I can dream, can’t I?” (or maybe it was someone else in another movie!).


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