Last May, the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University launched a series of group discussions about the lack of civility in American political speech. It was inspired by National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) programs aiming to elevate political conversation. The Hughes Center is a community partner in the NICD’s Revive Civility campaign.As discussion moderator, I repeated a tenet of the NICD that I privately thought at the time was hyperbolic: Uncivil speech can lead to violence.
We can all start with the NICD’s Golden Rule 2020 program for talking to people with whom you disagree. • Listen respectfully to the other person without interrupting. • Avoid inflammatory words or names and questioning the other person’s values or legitimacy. • Use precise language and don’t generalize to entire groups. • Most importantly, seek areas of common agreement on which to build a civil conversation. Last year may be one many of us would like to forget. But the NCID’s Golden Rule 2020 is certainly one goal we should carry forward into 2021.
Our center’s namesake, the late William J. Hughes, was a beacon of civility and bipartisanship as a 2nd District congressman and ambassador to Panama. When President Joe Biden was a U.S. senator, he rode the Amtrak train to Washington with Bill Hughes and the two became friends. Both faced political adversity but refused to sink to name-calling. Instead they found common ground and developed legislation that would benefit the country. A new administration is an opportunity for a new start, new attitudes and new conversations. They may not all be pleasant, but they can be civil. In his inauguration speech, President Biden said: “We must end this uncivil war.” The Hughes Center is committed to joining that effort in the year ahead.