Today’s post about dialogue dovetails with yesterday’s meanderings about civility. This is because civility is largely dependent upon fair, honest communication. In discussions about social norms, policy, and so on, all affected parties need to have a say and to be heard. If only one solution to a problem dominates, there is no dialogue. If there is no authentic dialogue, resentments build and civility suffers.
The history of the United States shows that when free speech is hampered and open dialogue is crushed, the population at large suffers. During the years when free speech flourishes and open dialogue is encouraged, the nation grows stronger. This is because dialogue is at the core of the democratic-republican system. In a nation that is comprised of people from every conceivable background and culture, the democratic-republic form of governing is ideal. Without dialogue, governance devolves into brutish rule.
In my opinion, our democratic republic is undergoing its current constitutional crises due, in part, to the lack of civics education in our schools. Too many of us are unaware of the intricacies of the Constitution. This is why it is easy for demagogues to cherry-pick passages out of the document in order to justify their claims.
Learning about the nuts and bolts of our nation and encouraging honest civic mindedness and critical engagement should once again be an important goal of our educational systems. People who can exercise discernment, engage in honest, structured debate, and participate in the national dialogue are better able to ethically, fairly function in society. To arbitrarily bar certain groups from the dialogue injures our core value of civility.
“Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice.”–Harvey Milk
The late Harvey Milk understood that when individuals and groups are not allowed into the discussion, misunderstanding and bias strongly color the outcome. When all concerned parties participate in the debate, greater understanding enables more equitable outcomes.
One of the goals of a democratic society is to achieve the greatest good for all citizens. Founding father James Madison also understood that there is an insidious danger he called “The Tyranny of the Majority”. Madison and his cohorts understood the wholesomeness of majority rule. However, what might seem proper for the governing majority might be harmful to people of minority status.
With dangers of the Tyranny of the Majority in mind, Madison and his fellow travelers authored a Constitution that contained checks and balances. This vital ingredient helps to ensure that the rights of the majority and the minorities are safeguarded. In other words, dialogue is a Constitutional right. When the democratic republic works properly, the majority runs the show but not at the expense of harming minorities.
To sum up my short monologue about dialogue, I think that in order for our nation and society to thrive, we need to remember that all citizens, regardless of demographics, are equally entitled and should be equally empowered to shape our society. Dialogue needs to be more than pretty words, we need to practice what we discuss in open and fair dialogue.