We may never be friends, but that doesn’t mean we have to be enemies.
Many choose to ignore this fact, deciding instead to demonize those with opposing views and trudge down the road of “if you aren’t with me, you’re against me.”
Incivility is rampant in our nation’s capital and has spread like a fever to young and old, rich or poor and yes, in letters to the editor, commentaries and some would say in the news pages of the Lewiston Tribune.
Compromise and civility served as the bedrock this nation was built upon. Now, compromise is a dirty word and civility is viewed as a sign of weakness.
Consider that compromise is an agreement reached through concessions made on both sides (doesn’t seem dirty). The challenge, of course, is identifying areas of agreement and deciding where concessions can be made, all while remaining civil. Civility is often defined as politeness (never thought we’d see the day where being polite was considered weak). But there are those who believe discussing divisive issues is impolite, and look to censor views that oppose their own.
So what can be done to revive the practice of civil discourse without cutting off our constitutional right to free speech?
It’s a question we’ve pondered here at the Tribune and led to what we are calling The Civility Project. We hope to do what the free press does best — shine a light on the issues and share stories of what is being done by others to find solutions.
There is no planned end date to these stories, because the problem is too great to suggest it can be addressed in a finite series.
Today’s article by reporter William L. Spence focuses on the National Institute for Civil Discourse. The nonpartisan organization, led by former Idaho gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred, “envisions elected officials who work collaboratively to tackle the big issues facing our country; a media that accurately informs and involves citizens; and a public that actively engages with its government.”
As relayed earlier this month by Tribune Editor and Publisher Nathan Alford, the national institute’s Idaho arm has agreed to bring its message to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. Lewis-Clark State College, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Tribune have teamed up to sponsor a luncheon Feb. 25 at the LCSC Williams Conference Center. It will feature former Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican; former Congressman Walt Minnick, a Democrat; and longtime journalist Bill Manny with Idaho Public Television. They will share their thoughts about civility in today’s society and take questions from the audience.
Division and an unwillingness to engage in civil discourse are certainly nothing new in our nation’s history.
President John F. Kennedy said it well in his inaugural address. It was 1961, and the United States was in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. At any moment it seemed we might give up on our search for positive ways to resolve our differences and end it all in a flash of nuclear annihilation.
Kennedy stressed that practicing civility, in this case between two superpowers, was a strength and a path forward, hopefully to peace.
“So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, spoke of the dire consequences of a divided nation. On the brink of civil war, the 16th president held out hope that his country’s people could avoid becoming “enemies.”
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2251.