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Can society return to civil debate?

We can see an uptick in deliberate rudeness, harassment, vandalism, and violence committed solely because of political disagreement. Is there a return to civility in our future? John Locke Foundation’s Jon Sanders says we aren’t stuck on this path and there’s a “pendulum” idea in politics that the further there’s movement in one direction, the stronger the pushback in the other until things turn around.

Earlier this year, News & Observer editorial writer Jim Jenkins reminded readers of gentler times when people habitually managed to

maintain friendship no matter their other differences because they recognized that the shared values that should bring people together have little to do with politics. The values that matter are heart, generosity, compassion, concern for the children and parents of true friends, loyalty, character, respect.

I’ve long written about the need to cherish the many things in life above politics, especially including the ability to break bread together even if you have political differences

So I was very encouraged to see two columns in the News & Observer online the same day last week. Connie Ledoux Book, president of Elon University, wrote about the importance of civil dialogue, arguing that “We can teach our students how to disagree.” Colleges and universities bear a responsibility for teaching students how to disagree and debate civilly, Book argued. When students are taught how to exchange ideas properly, they become more engaged in civic life.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, author and chaired professor of ethics at Duke University, made the case that society needs good argument.

Differences of opinion — ideas in conflict — are not anomalies to be stomped out in brute outrage. Rather they are to be valued because competition leads to innovations. Competition in the marketplace of ideas means finding manifold better ways to improve society.

Read the rest of Jon’s piece here.

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