Monday, March 05, 2007

Civil Communication

Bring up the subject of civility and you will inevitably wind up in a sideshow having little to do with the subject.

Civility does not mean never having to say you're sorry. It does not mean baby-proofing all conversation to ensure its inoffensiveness for the most delicate of sensibilities. Nor does it mean couching all claims as tepid statements of personal preference that cannot be refuted, or defended, or cared about one way or the other by much of anyone since they don't actually claim to say anything about the actual world.

Rudeness is, of course, rude. As such, it can distract from and therefore undermine whatever point you're trying to make. Impoliteness can be impolitic. But sometimes it is called for -- sometimes it is just the thing to jar your listeners into considering that which they were previously unable to consider. And sometimes it is funny (and therefore beautiful, and therefore true and good). All of which could be a fascinating subject for discussion, polite or impolite, but none of which is what civility is really all about.

Civility has to do with citizenship, which is to say it has to do with responsibility. To speak as civilized people, as citizens, requires that we be responsible -- to one another and to the truth (and the good, and the beautiful). It requires that we be responsible for our words, that we be willing to stand by them.

This is why I'm impatient with the whole "'I' statements" approach. It has its place, I suppose, in family therapy and the like, but it undermines responsibility. It aims to force us to phrase statements in a way that cannot provoke offense, but it winds up also forcing us to phrase statements in a way that makes their content irrelevant.
[via slacktivist]

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