Magazine article Information Today

Civil Disobedience?

Magazine article Information Today

Civil Disobedience?

Article excerpt

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the main character sourly notes, "I'm just so angry all the time." Post-election 2016, I can relate. And from what I see on a daily basis on social media, read in the newspaper, and hear in a variety of other contexts, I'm not alone. Even before the presidential campaign, it seemed that most people had stopped caring about anyone else's viewpoints that did not match their own. Not only has open-minded debate gone out the window, the window has been slammed shut--sometimes on people's fingers.

I can't imagine even attempting to have a discussion about the current president, the "alt-right," or Charlottesville with family and close friends who voted differently than I did last year. And if I'm not willing or brave enough to start a conversation with them--and am sometimes at odds with my own "base"--how do I begin to find commonality with strangers whose mindsets are the polar opposite of mine?

This is the daunting task being taken up by the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD; nicd.arizona.edu). Founded in the aftermath of the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 13 others--including injuring then U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.)--NICD is making inroads by holding all sides accountable in what we say and how we say it. As I was checking out its site, this statement jumped out at me:

      NICD envisions elected
   officials who work collaboratively
   to tackle the big issues
   facing our country; a media
   that accurately informs and
   involves citizens; and a public
   that actively engages with
   its government--of the people,
   by the people, for the
   people. Joining forces, we can
   ensure that civility emerges
   once again as the glue that
   binds, repairs and strengthens
   our Democratic nation.

That's when I knew NICD would be a perfect organization to highlight in We the People. When I reached out, I was in very short order put in touch with Raquel Goodrich, NICD's deputy director, who shared some of the ways this action-oriented institute is facilitating what it calls "large scale change in the behavior and ideology of people and systems." Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

On the site's main page, visitors are invited to sign the Revive Civility pledge (revivecivility.org). What does this entail, and how many people who sign it take the next step?

The Initiative to Revive Civility invites Americans to take a personal pledge to model and promote civility and offer suggestions of what they can do to practice it in their community. We believe that if enough people decide to listen to each other, to talk and act differently, then we will get different results. In order to join the initiative, we first ask participants to affirm their intention to practice civility in their life and take specific steps to engage people of diverse political views in respectful conversations. Those who join the initiative receive support for their efforts from NICD that includes information and suggestions about simple ways to promote civility and respect. After signing the pledge, participants can download our discussion guides and plan conversations based on their intent (some choose a one-on-one conversation with someone who thinks differently than they do, others plan a small group discussion).

NICD has so many intriguing programs. How did the Text, Talk, Act (TTA) initiative evolve? …

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