WHYY’s Chris Satullo led a thoughtful and engaging presentation, “A Civil Tongue – Taking the Poison Out of the National Dialogue,” during Old First’s Adult Forum on Sun., Feb. 6.
His experience with civil dialogue and the polarity of what passes for dialogue today stemmed initially from his experience on the editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer. It continues as part of his work at WHYY.
Dubunking the myth that civic dialogue is uglier than ever, Satullo pointed out that lack of civility in politics is nothing new. Take a look at this cartoon created by opponents of Abraham Lincoln. And Franklin D. Roosevelt was called a “crippled son-of-a-b*#@&“ by a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court (James McReynolds). As Satullo pointed out, those examples make shouting out “you lie” during the President’s address to Congress appear rather mild.
Still, he reported that during his time on the editorial board at the Inquirer there was a qualitative shift in the rhetoric he and his colleagues heard from the public. And things reached a fever pitch last month with events in Tucson.
He pointed to several roots of the problem, including that both conservatives and liberals engage in extreme, inflammatory, and over-the-top invective, that both live in ‘information silos’ of insulated opinion, and that 21st century media exacerbates polarity by focusing on conflict, rather than solutions.
Satullo then showed us a different way, by telling us of his work with the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, which brings people together to identify problems and find solutions. He spoke of the need to set ground rules including: 1) Listen, listen, listen. 2) Tell stories, don’t trade positions. 3) Search for shared identities, values, even amid differences. 4) Find useful work to do together.
He challenged us as a community of faith to practice civic engagement in our internal discussions and in our work in the community. Bobbie B. pointed out the similarities with P.O.W.E.R., the community organizing effort that Old First is participating in. P.O.W.E.R. is bringing together individuals from congregations of all different faith traditions to identify common concerns and seek solutions.
– Nancy Donahue