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Group Aims To Restore Civililty To San Diego’s Civic Dialogue

Evening Edition

Carl Luna, a political science professor at Mesa College, and Martha Barnette, co-host of "A Way With Words," talk to KPBS about the Conference On Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue.

Aired 2/19/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Carl Luna, Political Science Professor Mesa College

Martha Barnette, Co-host of Public Radio's A Way With Words


Civility is defined in the dictionary as formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. But in terms of public dialogue, it also means extending some respect toward others, even if you don't agree with them.

A group of San Diego educators, community leaders and public officials found civility sadly lacking in today's politics, so they initiated a conference last year aimed at restoring respect and civility in civic dialogue.

But based on last year's nasty political races, one conference was not enough. So the group is trying again this year with the 2nd Annual Conference On Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue.

"We can recognize there's an issue going on, get a dialogue going amongst people," said Carl Luna, a political science professor at Mesa College. "I think it's a long-term prospect to try to change the zeitgeist of a time."

But, he said, people are beginning to recognize "how we're talking at each other is keeping us from talking with each other."

Recognizing each other's citizenship could help, said Martha Barnette, co-host of the public radio show "A Way With Words."

"What we need to do is create a more civic dialogue, a more civil dialogue, that moves the country forward together," she said.

The conference gets underway Wednesday at the University of San Diego.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | February 19, 2013 at 12:37 p.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

What does it do to your credibility as an institution promoting civility in dialogue, when as an institution, you banned a speaker for positive views of gay marriage, which were not even related to the topic of the speaking engagement?

Even if you don't have a positive view of gay marraige, censoring civil discussion is never acceptable. It is ironic that a conference on civil dialogue would be held here since USD snuffed out any possibility of dialogue by revoking thier invitation entirely.

Joan's money could have been better spent on a state school that actually needed it.

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Avatar for user 'independentinSD'

independentinSD | February 19, 2013 at 12:39 p.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

The media is largley to blame here. The more radical Rep. leaning stations bending and omiting the truth when presenting the subjects. These opinion shows are fueled/funded by BIG business, they want to continue to steal from America - by starting more wars by embezelling $$. (For example, FOX media/ Rush / Beck)

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Avatar for user 'R24comm'

R24comm | February 19, 2013 at 2:11 p.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

How to be respectful? The program's speakers had many good points and presented some useful things to keep in mind, but they missed what seems to me to be the core of respect and respectful communication: being present to and for the other person.

Yes, our world is filled now with methods of communication where we do not have to be present to the other person. Almost certainly this makes it easier to be disrespectful and the goal of civility in our communications becomes more elusive. Many communications today occur without attending to how the audience, the individual to whom the communication is directed, is responding. We just put out what we have to say and it's up to the audience to do with it what they may. But truly respectful communication is an interchange and occurs with continuous awareness of the person to whom the communication is directed. Obviously this is all but impossible when the recipient person is not present, when the person is on the other end of an e-mail or a tweet or some other detached communication where the parties are not able to be attentive to one another in the moment.

This situation has led many people who engage in these convenient but disconnected exchanges to communicate only about relatively unimportant issues, although occasionally of course quite important information does get exchanged. But important content is often lost in a sea of superficial, "oh it doesn't matter; I'm just playing around here" messaging, so much so that when something important needs to be communicated or, more importantly, something important needs to be negotiated, people are today a little rusty, their communication skills are a little rusty.

So what do we do? We look at our TV dramas for how to negotiate. And what they show us is drama, violence, and tension, and not often the open sincerity that permits a respectful encounter.

Instead we witness every day a flood of media-distributed commentary and communications from public voices talking that us. Even that phrasing -- talking at us -- describes why respect in the public areana is so often elusive, why snarkiness or provocation fill public communications. Certainly part of why respect has been crowded out of many communications today is a need to get people's attention. So many public communicators today choose "splash" over respect because being provocative, being outrageous, gets people's attention. Basically respect is too soft, too delicate, to get people's attention in today's clamor. Yet, as the program's speakers noted, what is needed in many of the most important transactions today is respect.

( see part II)

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Avatar for user 'R24comm'

R24comm | February 19, 2013 at 2:13 p.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

Even when attention is available, even when people are listening or attending to what someone has to say, the cleverness of the communication often takes precedence over sincerity. This situation may fairly be seen as a natural outcome of our detached channels of communication., a cultural habit. It's as though people have become so entranced by all the new devices through which we can communicate that we have forgotten about the benefits of direct open and sincere communication.

The advantage of avoiding sincere communication is that the participants are less vulnerable, and feel less vulnerable. It's fair to say that provocative communications of the style that so often occurs in the public arena is safer for the speakers then being authentic and sincere. For good reason people shun sincerity because often they are exploited by the very types of provocation that so often fill the media today. Perhaps if public figures kept in mind that provocative comments exhibit a sort of cowardice, they might try some other way of presenting their points of view. But it is true that we live in a world where lifting a phrase from some public figure's comments is considered moral, even when by doing so it misrepresents what that person was intending. Sadly people who complain about such practices are often chided: if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. But of course such attitudes only perpetuate the insincerity of provocative declarations and do nothing to further sincerity in our national dialogue.

The alternative to all the gamesmanship of public communication today is speaking authentically face-to-face, while looking at the other. And of course it is not enough in such moments simply to declare one's position. One has to be to be willing to examine that position in detail, including its implications (both good and bad). Rather than having two entrenched ideologies lobbying rhetorical grenades at each other across some no man's land, the principles involved in these important public negotiations need to man up and sit facing one another -- literally -- and begin discussing how they each see the consequences of their (own) points of view.

If this type of exchange is going on now, it is getting no press. Understandably a conversation of this sort is not easily revealed to the public; it is too easily misunderstood and manipulated by people not wanting to be sincere or authentic but only wanting attention or to manipulate an ignorant public. But imagine what would happen if such a conversation ever were to be broadcast. Arguably, we would enter a new world. As things are today, such an exchange only can exist publicly in some fictionalized account by a popular author. Perhaps someday we will be courageous enough culturally to let that fictionalized event occur in the real world. That would show everyone what respect looks like and what it can accomplish.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 20, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

UNREAL123, and what does it say about hecklers who shouted down Jeanne Kirkpatrick at PUBLIC university campuses in the 80s??? (PS: And I loathed her politics.)

Private universities have more free reign. But this issue here is NOT 'free speech" but the civility of THAT speech. All sides are culpable today.

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | February 20, 2013 at 1:19 p.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

DISS'N ACCOMPLISHED, I had to look up Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Fascinating bio, can almost remember this stuff going on but too young to care. I can see the seeds of many current day positions sowed in her doctrine.

What I tried to impart in my previous comment was not regarding free speech. It may be a stretch, but isn't silencing discussion a form censorship? (That includes shouting people down.) I just think an institution that is trying to be relevant today in the advocating of civil discussion, should allow discussion to happen. Civil of course.

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