In these days, as most of the countries in the world become democracies, people’s attentions toward civil discourse have increased a lot. Especially for my home country, Korea, each region’s government hosts several civil discourses, opens ‘civil discourse school’ for their regional citizens, and even incentivizes regional schools to have classes for civil discourse. Then, why do we think that civil discourse is important? In my opinion, by having respectful and modest discussion or debate between citizens and citizens, we can improve our reasons, values, and understandings of social issues, even world issues.
First of all, what is ‘Civil discourse’? Many different authorities have provided different definitions with regards to what civil discourse is. According to the ‘Oxford Dictionary’, civil discourse means a formal written or spoken communication or debate between citizens of the same country or members of a community. According to the ‘definition’, civil discourse is an engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. Then, what is an ‘authoritative source’? Piedmont college says that an authoritative source is a work known to be reliable because its authority or authenticity is widely recognized by experts in the field.
Kenneth J. Gergen is an American psychologist and emeritus professor at Swarthmore College. And he obtained his Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and his PhD from Duke University, which qualifies him as one of the authoritative sources. In his book ‘Social Construction in Context’, Kenneth J. Gergen describes civil discourse as “the language of dispassionate objectivity.” In other words, civil discourse is a discussion for better understanding of social issues that does not swayed by discussants’ emotions.
According to her site, Kate Shuster, Ph.D., is the president of Shuster Consulting, and taught education, research, freelance writing, editing and project management more than twenty years. And she holds a doctorate in Educational Studies from Claremont Graduate University with an emphasis on education policy and quantitative methods. Since her academic status and experiences are able to give us credits for what her saying, we can consider her as authoritative source.
In her site, Kate Shuster said, “Civil discourse is discourse that supports, rather than undermines, the societal good. It demands that democratic participants respect each other, even when that respect is hard to give or to earn. Democratic societies must be societies where arguments are tolerated and encouraged, but this is not always easy.” Her definition of civil discourse is similar with that of Kenneth J. Gergen, especially for the part that civil discourse requires participants respect. However, she said one thing more, “when that respect is hard to give or to earn.” In her definition, Kate Shuster acknowledged that debating with opponents with having respects is difficult, but it is necessary, since debate without respect would not lead us toward better understanding of society, but towards disastrous discords between citizens and citizens.
Lastly, Lara Schwartz is an American professional speaker, author, and television commentator. She got her AB, English and American Literature, in Brown University 1993, and JD, at Harvard Law School 1998. Also, she teaches in the Department of Government and is the Director of the Project on Civil Discourse. Lara Schwartz said that, “civil discourse is a truthful and productive conversation between individuals, a discourse that doesn’t tell people who they are but is rather a listening-focused discussion.” We can find some similarities in her definition of civil discourse, but the new thing is that it is a ‘listening-focused’, means that the essential purpose of civil discourse is to listen carefully what their opponents are saying, rather than to speak one’s opinion.
In conclusion, I analyzed three different authoritative sources’ thoughts about civil discourse in this paper. I could find several similarities and differences between those idea, therefore, I can paraphrase the meaning of civil discourse, “Civil discourse is the conversation between citizens for society’s societal better future and understanding of societal issue. It requires respect towards opponents, even thought it is hard, and focused on listening rather than speaking.”