Submitted by Emily Molina — SHMA Liaison to Steilacoom Friends of the Library.
The library speaker series launched its first successful virtual presentation on Friday, June 12th, featuring philosopher, and Humanities Washington speaker, David E. Smith’s talk on ‘Civil Conversations in an Angry Age.’
Smith’s mission as an educator is to empower people to think for themselves about things that matter by looking at the reasons behind different perspectives in order to gain an appreciation for other views. “It’s about building bridges of communication between people who disagree,” he says.
As he discusses civility in relation to having meaningful, useful, and productive conversations, he focuses on the controversial topics of what he refers to as “the big three”: Religion, ethics, and politics. With over 25 years teaching such materials, Smith says, “I always work really hard to present both sides of everything, multiple sides. Things that often divide us as Americans.”
With the leading idea, ‘What to say to whom,’ Smith reminds us that not everyone is a candidate for civil conversation on every topic.
The very definitions of truth and reality and how we substantiate truth claims can be argued. Incivility, which is mostly subconscious, often begins with very honest disagreements about truth, or our beliefs about truth claims. Much of our belief systems emerge naturally based upon different influences we’ve been exposed to throughout our lives.
People have a right to disagree with our beliefs about things that matter. Smith says, “If we disagree, let’s find out why.” We need to remember that it’s not a defamation of our character, even though it may sometimes feel like it. Some causes of incivility can include our own lack of knowledge, intelligence, or experience, biases, identities, emotion, need of affirmation, and closed-mindedness.
How can we have these conversations civilly? “It has to start with us,” says Smith, as he draws on the philosophy of Edward Langerak, pointing to the ingredients for a recipe of civility. First and foremost, treating others courteously and respectfully. Approaching them with humility, self-control, and courage. Seeking a common thread and recognizing that we are all human. Speaking and listening, and although perhaps disagreeing, also acknowledging and keeping an open mind.
Friends of the Steilacoom Library sponsor these free events in partnership with the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association. The next series event will take place in September.