Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Civility in Discourse

I have never used my blog for discussions of anything political, because I don’t really think that I add anything of value to the other hyenas who are already yapping and snapping.  I have a lot of opinions, but in writing about them, I lack fluency.  And I don’t want to do a bunch of research, which I would feel obliged to do if I were to write about politics.  
I’ll tell you what does excite me about the modern American experience, though: the death of civility in controversial discourse.  When I was doing my graduate work in Linguistics, my favorite classes were Sociolinguistics and Discourse Analysis.  I love picking apart letters to the editor, considering why the writer chooses particular words over others.  I am animated by the ways in which political forces take ownership of language and use it to further their own ends.  Think, “family values”.  Think “job creators”.  
I was listening to the show “This American Life” on NPR the other day, and the stories were all about friends and family who were so politically polarized that they were unable to maintain their relationships.  Unable to talk about ANYthing anymore.  Unable to eat a meal together.  I’m interested in why we can’t listen to each other, learn from each other, and respectfully disagree. 
Are we getting too much of our lessons in how to talk to people from talk shows where people shout and interrupt, so that’s all we know how to do?  Chuck’s theory is that when we were younger, there were far fewer sources of information than there are now.  “Truth” as I knew it came from Walter Cronkite and the Milwaukee Sentinel.  Granted, it was probably a poor truth, but when conversing about our beliefs, we didn’t have to contend with today’s reality:  there is nowhere you can go for the truth any more.  There are a thousand truths, based conflicting studies and distorted facts. Because I teach people how to use the English languge, I think it is my responsibility to help them learn how to do things like give opinions respectfully, ask others for their thoughts, disagree in such a way that no one feels belittled.  To be able to talk about religion, politics, social issues in a way that  unites heart and minds.  And because Guadalupe School is a community learning center, with students and volunteers from all backgrounds forming a quasi-family, I want that environment to be a place where we can experiment with discourse and feel safe in doing so.
So, you may catch me driveling on about this once a month or so.  If you want to add to the conversation in the comments section form time to time, as the spirit moves you, go for it.  

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