Embrace Civil Discourse

Rob Nabors ’93
Gates Foundation
Obama White House Staffer

There are many things that make America great, but the most important thing is the fundamental spirit of America. A country built on the concept that its people have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And a government formed by and for the people to ensure these rights. Our greatest disappointments are when we as a society fail to live up to our own ideals, and our greatest triumphs as a nation are when these values take root in other places around the world.
We will never be able to fully achieve our perfect democracy—the world is too complicated and we are not perfect. But that does not mean that we stop striving for it. The world will continue to change, often in ways that challenge our most basic ideals. This means only that we have to fight harder to uphold these values. An American’s individual rights come with a civic responsibility to help perfect the union. Through things like voting, jury duty, participating in public discourse, and serving the welfare of our communities, we strive for a better nation.  
As we continue along the path toward a more perfect union, inevitably there will be disagreements. Some of these disagreements will be fundamental and bitter. Some will be loud and acrimonious. But that's OK. It shows that people are exercising their rights. It is democracy in action. The best democracies are sometimes messy, but the alternative—a government that stifles debate or that ignores the will of the people—is far worse. 
In many ways, more concerning than conflict in our democracy is the tenor and tone of that conflict. Too often our necessary public debates become strident and mean-spirited. They are increasingly based on self-selected information that reinforces our pre-existing beliefs rather than on objective facts or evidence that challenge the current state of affairs in a productive manner. The “civil” in civil society seems to have become antiquated, creating a world in which chatrooms and anonymous commentary have replaced breaking bread with your neighbor or sitting down with people who you might not agree with to resolve differences. 
So how do we move forward? Exercise your rights. Voice your opinions. Make your position known. Hold our leaders accountable to the people. Value what is right over what is easy or convenient. Remember that people who disagree with you are still people deserving of respect. This is how we grow as individuals and as a nation. If we do this, we can continue to move this country toward its most cherished ideals.

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