James Davenport at NonDoc:

If political engagement, news consumption and education do not actually help us better understand one another, how do we bridge this divide and find common ground? The answer may lie in how we treat one another in our disagreements and conversations about important topics. In short, we need to reinstate civility in our civil discourse. In many cases, we need to relearn how to converse with others who disagree with us without immediately assuming the worst in each other, ascribing perceived motivations or failing to listen to one another’s concerns.


There are people and organizations attempting to help us engage in better conversations and constructive disagreement. The Heterodox Academy is one organization that helps foster viewpoint diversity, open inquiry and constructive disagreement in higher education. This organization of academics has developed the “Heterodox Way“ of approaching difficult conversations — a set of “norms and values” to be used in all such conversations. The approach includes intentionally:


  • Making your case with evidence — Citing or describing sources of information;
  • Being intellectually charitable — Assume that reasonable, informed and intelligent people may disagree with you;
  • Being intellectually humble — Be open to changing your mind should the facts warrant it;
  • Being constructive — Focus on gaining a deeper understanding of our world, not just on winning an argument;
  • Being yourself — Use your social capital to push back against adverse trends and lead by example.


These guidelines are not only beneficial in an academic setting, they are also helpful in the common discussions and disputes we have over a variety of issues and policies on a regular basis. They create an environment of mutual respect, an agreed upon approach to the conversation and boundaries to keep a conversation from devolving into personal attacks.