#TheSandersInstitute #JamesZogby #CivilDiscourse #Gandhi
This is a response to an article by James Zogby, the new Chair of the Sanders Institute, titled "The Importance of Civil Discourse."
Zogby makes the case for civility... and he should. The Sanders progressives know they need civility to win progress, and they’re worried. They’ve got their platform figured out, but now the foundation shows signs of crumbling.
It’s a dilemma. Progressives — both young and old — are now itchy, sick and tired of the meanness, disrespect and conniving of the opposition, and they want, well, progress! But they disagree on the degree of progress they should advocate. So they're splintering, turning mean, disrespecting each other and putting their energy into dominance strategies. It’s the “no compromise” bumper sticker ethos we saw on the right under Bush Jr., the Left’s flu of intolerance turned on companions. We blame each other for not caring enough, or in the right way. It's a recipe for mayhem, for collapse. Hence the Dreamers v. Dreamers+ shoutfest at the recent Pelosi rally.
This Zogby explains why we need civility to achieve our objectives. Not how to be civil -- which, cannot be just another tactic or tool to push a one-sided agenda. Civility is really the whole enchilada, it is what makes society possible. Civility is not about niceness or weakness; it is the willingness to engage with each other that finds its anchor in the recognition of our common interest, which by definition summons our mutual respect as stakeholders, calls us to voice and defend our opinion-belief-preference, and compels us to nonviolence as we seek solutions we can agree to. Those solutions per force may not incorporate all of our interests, and will likely include some we don't like. In other words, civility is the kind of work that can take us beyond our one-sided agenda into a functional and adaptive diversity of community that is good enough for all.
A locally well-known progressive writer and friend of mine has lost patience with patience. His perseverance is now weaponized. He's doubled-down on rhetoric that castigates, berates, belittles, diminishes, excludes, demolishes. He no longer believes in civility. How could he, when the opposition doesn't, and seems to be winning as a result? Look who got elected President!
When civility seems the least effective means, we're in trouble. "War is the failure of diplomacy." --(Tony Benn)
War -- whether between nations, political parties, intra-party factions, or friends and neighbors -- is not inevitable. But it takes work and perseverance to avoid it.
Gandhi taught his followers a variety of useful skills that proved effective in liberating the Indian citizenry from English rule, and they flowed from twin commitments.
The first commitment was to satyagraha, a combination of "satya," or truth, and "graha," which is to hold firmly in your grasp. You don't let go of what you believe is true unless and until you discover something partial or false about it, and then you hold onto that greater understanding. The discovery of reality is an ongoing journey, one that requires a little work, discomfort, struggle. Don't be lazy, don't cave in, don't slough off. Engage, but be willing to change. Hold firmly to what is true.
The second commitment is to "ahimsa," or the force of the will to do no harm. Leave aside your ideas of victory at any cost, of the ends justifying the means, of win-lose, of acceptable collateral damage. Work in such a way that each person experiences your respect for their humanity, your recognition of their interests and needs, even as you insist they do the same toward you.
The skills that flow from satyagraha and ahimsa include separating the idea from the person; reframing arguments to include our deepest and highest interests and aims; getting curious before we form judgements; working to see from the opposing point of view, and taking the argument from there in order to learn its meaning to our opponent; and letting go old solutions and formulas to create what best fits the present situation.
Is The Sanders Institute willing to help us rediscover the vital skills of civility? It would be a worthy second flank to their progressive objectives, and could be a worthier primary one.
If you're local to Paradise, CA and interested in building new skills of civility for robust and substantive discussion of the issues of our day, check out the Guild for Civil Dialogue at Paradise Community Guilds, which meets next on October 15th at 4PM at Norton Buffalo Hall.
We are nonpartisan, nondenominational, open to all of goodwill.