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That's debatable

How to remain civil in discourse

By The Editors
On February 23, 2011

Knowledge.  Respect.  Civility.  Understanding.  These are words that should seem like common sense when engaging in a debate of any sort, let alone a heated and extremely controversial political debate.  The rage that has ensued in the state of Wisconsin, particularly in Madison, throughout the past week has been rather peaceful, but is starting to gain the attention of national media and has even been compared to the chaos in Egypt.  Really Wisconsinites?  We're all the same beer drinking, brat eating, Packer loving people deep down.  But when it comes to something so controversial we begin to turn on each other and put each other down.

Through studying political science, public administration, and communication studies here at UW-L, in addition to personal experiences, here are some tips for engaging in civil discourse.

1. Know the facts.  If you are going to enter into a heated debate, it is essential to know what you're talking about.  Without knowing the facts and figures you will come out souding ignorant and uneducated.  Take some time to do a little research on the issue so that you can understand both your position and that of your opposition.  This allows you to not only come off like you know what you're talking about, but it gives you a legitimate point of intelligent argument against your opponent.

2.  Be respectful.  There is constant disagreement on almost everything in our society.  Just because you believe one thing doesn't mean that there aren't grounds for those who believe the opposite of you.  Remember, even if you are in the minority group now, you will inherently gain back the majority at some point in time, and vice versa.  Therefore, it is essential to respect the views of everyone, regardless of if you agree with them or not.

3.  Be civil.  Along with being respectful comes the notion of civility.  Dictionary.com defines civility as, "formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech."  Not only do we need to be knowledgeable and respectful, but we need to exude civility in our thoughts, words, and actions.  Again, you don't have to agree with someone to remain civil.  Just be polite in your disagreement and debate.

4.  Be understanding.  A person's views could be the polar opposite of your own views, but that does not provide the grounds for you to disregard their opinion.  Accept it for what it's worth.  This correlates with knowing the facts of an issue, in that once you know all the facts, you are able to comprehend the position of your opposition.  You can then articulate your opinion, in a respectful and civil manner of course, because you actually know what you're talking about.

5.  Stick to your guns.  If you've done your research, presented your case in a respectful and civil manner, and consulted with the opposition to gain a deeper understanding of their position on the issue, your views should be even more solidified at this point.  So don't back down.  Your views are just as important as the next person's.  That being said, you can't throw the first four steps out the window at this point; they're the building blocks that get you to this point.  You've earned your way to the top.  You know what you believe and nobody can convince you otherwise.  Just don't become arrogant about it.

When we follow these simple guidelines, we actually come off sounding like intellectual human beings in a debate.  We know what we're talking about, we're respectful and civil, we understand where others are coming from, and we don't back down.  Debate and disagreement is the spice of life; without it there would be no excitement or insanity.  

But there's no need to be an idiot, especially in light of the current situation our state is facing.  This is a very heated issue for people on both sides, so let's keep our dignity Wisconsin.  Let's not do anything we would look back on and regret.  Remember always that we're in this together no matter what the issue.  We are Wisconsin, and the rest of the country can hear us roar.  But let's show them our good side; our knowledgeable, respectful, civil, understanding, enduring and unwavering side.


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