My post this morning “Why Is Civil Discourse So Difficult?” generated a brilliant comment from Lindsay.

Lindsay’s comment is longer than the original post and well-worth reading. I am reposting it here in the hopes that more people might see it and feel encouraged to respond.


“There are certain beliefs that are simply not compatible. In the end there will be a winner and a loser when our community decides to move one way or the other. How can a community move beyond “winners” and “losers” but still make difficult decisions?”

This is a big question, one which I’ve been wondering about for years … so far, it seems …

a. We have a tendency to automatically jump to conclusions and take a position on one side of the fence or the other … even at times when we aren’t personally affected by the issue under debate. It seems sometimes we are programmed to get excited and choose sides, and argue in favour of our position, without actually listening to all sides of the argument.

b. Which brings up my next observation … whatever the conflict, many issues can be resolved by simply giving all parties the opportunity to tell their story and be heard (not necessarily agreed), and their position, albeit it may be different or difficult to listen to, can be respected. A lot of heat is taken out of the conflict when people don’t have to fight so hard for the opportunity for their viewpoints to be heard. Once people feel their issues have been genuinely heard, they tend to refocus their energy on finding a solution to the actual problem.

c. When people focus on problems, rather than politics and ego / grandstanding, they tend to get a better idea of the actual issues and tend to find actual solutions, or at least come up with a process that has a reasonable chance of resolving the issue.

d. When people with different viewpoints are willing and allowed to be active participants in discussion, the eventual solution tends to be bigger, more widely encompassing and better than it would have been if it were simply reached by a group of like-minded people.

e. People who are included in the discussion are more likely to take responsibility for the outcome, which increases the likelihood of the outcome being more widely accepted, even if the outcome isn’t favourable.

f. Positions we feel passionate about now and argue about vehemently now, if not all-inclusive, will invariably backfire at some point in the future. It’s Murphy’s Law that the position we argue for now we will invariably argue against in the future.

g. Higher authorities and larger governing principles can be useful for resolving issues (like the United Nations Charters on Rights of People, like the Supreme court, like Mom or Dad taking a stand) when discussion is no longer possible.

h. A sort term fix which seems to work when issues get overheated, and when there are only 2 war-ing factions, is for a 3rd more powerful or impartial bystander (like a Mom) to draw the battlegrounds, to define the outcomes and limit the fallout of the conflict … as in you 2 guys are fighting and you are making it uncomfortable for the rest of us … go into your room and sort it out. Don’t come back until you have sorted it out.
If you don’t sort it out then … (insert any outcome here) … you will not be allowed out of your room to play, you will be disestablished and removed from the House of Lords … Invariably the 2 war-ing factions will reach an agreement quite quickly, or decide the issue isn’t important enough to warrant staying in a room and not being allowed outside to play …

i. An unfortunate but obvious side-effect of #h is that the 2 war-ing parties will invariably unite with each other against the 3rd more powerful, or impartial participant … changing or shifting the issue … which isn’t necessarily a bad thing … just takes a strong stomach to be the 3rd party … Hence #h should only be used as a short term fix … and the 3rd party better be prepared to handle the fallout … :)

j. Compromise can work if it isn’t compromise for the sake of compromise, but when all the issues are laid out honestly on the table, and there is genuine give and take …

k. Breakdown of trust, once firmly entrenched, is the biggest problem … Once trust is broken, it takes massive leaps of faith to resolve, and any future act, albeit well-intentioned and favourable tends to be viewed with suspicion. I don’t know the answer to this one … but it does tend to cause lingering conflict, even if the conflict is suppressed, lack of trust tends to be expressed in other ways … I think the answer is to always try to act respectfully and with integrity … even if it means taking a few on the chin …

l. There is something to be said sometimes for taking people where they are at (culturally, background, religions view, gender, etc) and saying to oneself, you know this person is from (insert whatever label here) … Africa, female, a communist background, a large family, a teenager … etc, no matter how hard I try to explain, he/she is just not going to get it … and then letting it go …