Pondering the present decline of civility and respect in public discourse has made head-line news around the world. Canadians are stereo-typed as being ‘nice’, but we have our share of belligerent loud-mouths. Our political campaigns degenerate into mindless attack ads aimed at the opposing party or candidate. Our parliamentary debates morph into a playing field of scrimmages and name-calling. It’s tiresome, unproductive, and leads to wide-spread voter apathy. The recent tragedy in Arizona has forced us all to wonder if there is a connection between the violent tone in our discourse and the increase of violence in society. Where is the art of dialogue in today’s world?
As with any religion, Catholics have our passionate souls on both sides of the ideological divide of conservatism and liberalism. Too often, the most passionate voices make the most noise. An even louder noise comes from outside the church. Any mention of the Catholic Church in a news story is taken as an invitation for an anti-church rant. It’s hard to think, and even harder to be heard amid the shouting. We need passion, but it must go hand in hand with compassion for the other.
It’s a major challenge to bring the art of dialogue out of a Utopian dream world and into daily practice. It’s much easier to talk about dialogue (like I’m doing now) than it is to DO dialogue. How do you maintain a respectful dialogue with someone who wants to debate? Is it naive to think that dialogue is not only possible, but preferable to debate? Is there a time when a rip-roaring, gloves-off debate is not only needed but necessary?