Opinion: A Plea for Civil Discourse


By Carla Charter

In 1774 the Continental Congress in Philadelphia assembled for the first time. This group of men, diversely different and of multiple opinions and viewpoints were the first to lead the 13 colonies toward independence.  History has recorded that were many discussions within this congress, discussions which by their nature involved both speaking and listening, many vocal and heated about the challenges facing this fledgling country. Despite the discussions becoming involved and sometimes uncomfortable they happened. They happened and they happened and they happened again until a compromise was reached that everyone could live with.

The discussions continued, because the founding fathers understood that they were all working toward the same goal, independence. They were also well aware that a vital key to reaching that goal, was to remember that they were all on the same side. They inherently knew that if instead of attacking the fledgling democracy’s issues they instead attacked each other, if they stubbornly took sides and refused to consider another’s viewpoint everything was sunk. The independence, the democracy, the Continental Congress themselves.

These original representatives understood that debate, clear, open and sometimes passionate debate was the only way forward to keep this little boat of liberty afloat.  The minute they put their pen to the Declaration they understood that for better or worse we had all instantly become one.

It’s a lesson we would do well to keep in mind today. It bothers me to no end, the finger pointing, the name calling, the side taking. They are wrong and we are right. It’s us versus them. We seem to have forgotten that they are all us and we are all them.  We are one people facing a host of thorny problems and just like in 1775 there is only on way to resolve them. Debate, vocal, honest and sometimes passionate debate.

Debate should be happening at the White House and in the Halls of Congress. Discussions not taking place with thoughts of preserving bases, winning future elections or pleasing particular lobbies or coalitions but as the founding fathers did only with the thoughts of what is best for our democracy and for those who live under it.

These discussions need to extend beyond Washington though. They need to extend to our neighborhoods, our friendships, our kitchen tables and our coffee shops.  We need to start talking to one another and not at one another. We need to work out our differences and try to understand.

It is often said in polite society that religion and politics should never be discussed. I instead am proposing the exact opposite. Find someone who is different than you. Politically, religiously, ethnically or who has a different sexual orientation. Invite them out for coffee. Learn about their lives, their beliefs, their struggles. Tell them about yours. Discuss religion, discuss politics, break down stereotypes. Discuss the myriad of problems affecting our country and come up with some solutions together. Civilly debate and if need be, agree to disagree. You may soon realize that there is no us and them, only us and us. Discuss, debate and keep on discussing and debating. The survival of our very democracy may depend on it.


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