Rules for Civil Engagement: How to talk with someone unlike yourself

In this IHS-Big Think video collaboration, University of Pennsylvania Professor Jonathan Zimmerman makes the case for civil engagement that operates with rules and respect.

“Civility…connotes the rules of decent and polite behavior that we need to follow in order to have a reasonable discussion,” Zimmerman says.

He notes that certain phrases can be used to help further a conversation. Instead of attacking someone, say: “Well, that’s not how I see it, could you explain more?” Or, “I just want to tell you that I see this different, and I want to share that with you to see what you think.” By acknowledging our disagreements and asking for feedback, we are continuing productive civil engagement and learning more about our discussion partner.

Another Zimmerman rule pertains to using strong emotion in conversation. “Don’t be afraid of emotion, but don’t mistake it for argument.” The emotion a stance elicits isn’t an indication of its strength. Instead, focus your arguments on facts and reason.

Overall, Jonathan Zimmerman says civil engagement can lead to productive dialogue. By listening and addressing the concerns of others in a calm manner, we can learn from those with opposing viewpoints and work towards an understanding.

View other videos from the IHS-Big Think video series.

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