The president of Duquesne University, Dr. Ken Gormley, created an event to open up discussion on campus.  This is the first part of what will be a series on Civil Discourse.  This first event was titled “Racial and Cultural Understanding in a New Era” and contained two segments.  The first was on ‘Race and Police:  Building Trust in Communities’ while the second was ‘Muslims, Immigration and the American Dream.’ These were rather hefty topics to take on during singular panels, let alone both being included together.  This event included many guests that were authorities on their topics and thus had many things to say about them.  The most interesting part of the event is that on both panels, not everyone had the same thoughts concerning the subject.  Both sides of the argument were present, which created a diversity I have not typically witnessed in any sort of event like this.  For example, during the panel that focused on Police, there was both support for police presented alongside critiques against them.  Each had points that supported their side of the argument, and they discussed their differences civilly.

Something that displeased many about this event was that the panels tried to cover too much, and that the guests were too sensitive about their vocabulary and hesitated to say anything too inflammatory directly.  Also, the moderators turned away from some questions that were too harsh or critical, especially ones concerning police.  Also, the flow of the event was rather quick.  To me, these were actually sources of why I liked the event.

What I liked most about the event is how careful the speakers were with their words.  They weren’t too aggressive with their viewpoints on how police should be monitored or how we should react to the idea of immigration bans.  Some people found it displeasing that the speakers didn’t take a strong stance, but to me, I saw this as a good way to actually invite discussion on these topics.  Usually it is so hard for the sides to come together because they are immediately attacking each other and using rhetoric that very easily causes disagreements.  The care that was taken in this event to not cause anger serves the true purpose of these panels, which was to create an atmosphere for Civil Discourse.

There is a time and a place to be aggressive about your opinions, but a discussion that is meant to open up the campus and the world around us is not a place for that.  If you aren’t careful initially, you will immediately ward people away from the topic, and then the discussion will be merely one-sided.  I think this serves neither side and only propagates the echo-chamber where our own opinions will echo back to us tenfold, bringing us further into our own thoughts rather than inviting discussion, dissent, and diversity of opinion.  I think it is of great import to have a wide range of views about the world, it is that difference that makes us less stratified, because if we truly listen and engage with one another we will end up reaching a middle ground more often than not.  And, if we do that, we end up unifying rather than dividing, which makes everyone stronger.

I like the idea of a world where we can speak with each other about our differences, rather than screaming.  I have found that even the most terrible of opinions can be gently discouraged through civil discourse, and equilibriums can be met.  The hardest part, really, is that first step—the step where you see your opponent as a human instead of a series of what you consider wrong ideas.  Once you take that step, see your enemy as another human, you can both speak with each other and come to understand.

Understanding means so much more than people think it does.

Continuing this series of panels opens up the conversation to more in-detail analysis, and if all sides of the argument are present, we can come together.  This event was only the first of a series, the rest of which will be coming.  I look forward to attending to see how the conversation continues and afterwards interacting with people around me to learn their thoughts and understand them, and to refine my own opinions.  You should all try this too, try to open yourself to discussion with everyone, try to stem the fires of your passion concerning the topics, and to instead listen to everyone, and to work with them.  Figure it out with them, change yourself as you change them, and unify together into a force much stronger than anything we would’ve been if we had been alone.