Letter: Promoting civil discourse


To the editor:

As we enter another campaign season, we'll be witnessing numerous debates among those vying for the presidency. Unfortunately, candidates often attack or criticize one another rather than listening carefully to their opponents' views. Moderators frequently fuel the disagreements in ways that generate more heat than light. Given the many challenges our nation faces, we should not allow contentious voices to prevail over those having a calm willingness to listen respectfully to views at variance with their own.

We need a radical change in the conventional structure of debates. Why not adopt a simple and direct format, one in which each candidate explains his/her position on a mutually selected issue with moderators ensuring that neither candidate resorts to attacking the other? Following each presentation, participants should be encouraged to ask questions of one another designed to make sure they have listened accurately and understand their opponent's position even though they may disagree with it. Would not such a format promote a more informed electorate rather than the usual approach which too often generates confusion and which puts the emphasis on personalities rather than content?

A somewhat more elaborate format would require each candidate to first state his/her understanding of the opponent's point of view on an issue and making sure it is accurate before presenting his/her own position. This approach would stress careful listening, something which too often is missing in public discourse.

It's very unlikely either of these formats will ever be adopted, but that shouldn't prevent our using these practices whenever we discuss issues with one another. Doing so would promote civility and be both educational and entertaining.

Richard Markham,




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