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Voting and Elections

Civil Discourse

Seeking guidance on how to engage in productive conversations on contentious topics? The following resources provide facilitation tips and background information on the state of civil discourse.

Ebooks available at Gleeson Library

Beyond Your Bubble

This practical, politically neutral book offers concrete skills for holding meaningful conversations that cut across today's intense political divide, showing readers how to connect to the people in their lives. Chapters show readers how to develop and use the scientifically-proven skills that are the foundation of constructive conversation, including strategies for effective listening, managing emotions, and understanding someone else's perspective, as well as finding common ground, avoiding self-righteousness, and telling your own story. Throughout, conversation prompts, practical exercises, case examples, and self-quizzes help readers visualize and practice starting, sustaining, and ending challenging conversations.

Table Talk

Etiquette books insist that we never discuss politics during a meal. In Table Talk , Janet A. Flammang offers a polite rebuttal, presenting vivid firsthand accounts of people's lives at the table to show how mealtimes can teach us the conversational give-and-take foundational to democracy. Delving into the ground rules about listening, sharing, and respect that we obey when we break bread, Flammang shows how conversations and table activities represent occasions for developing our civil selves. If there are cultural differences over practices--who should speak, what behavior is acceptable, what topics are off limits, how to resolve conflict--our exposure to the making, enforcement, and breaking of these rules offers a daily dose of political awareness and growth. Political table talk provides a forum to practice the conversational skills upon which civil society depends. It also ignites the feelings of respect, trust, and empathy that undergird the idea of a common good that is fundamental to the democratic process.

Truth Decay

Political and civil discourse in the United States is characterized by "Truth Decay," defined as increasing disagreement about facts, a blurring of the line between opinion and fact, increased relative volume of opinion compared to fact, and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information. This report explores the causes and wide-ranging consequences of Truth Decay and proposes strategies for further action.

Breaking Through Gridlock

Think about the last time you tried to talk with someone who didn't already agree with you about issues that matter most. How well did it go? These conversations are vital, but too often get stuck. They become contentious or we avoid them because we fear they might. What if, in these difficult conversations, we could stay true to ourselves while enriching relationships and creating powerful pathways forward? What if our divergent values provided healthy fuel for dialogue and innovation instead of gridlock and polarization? Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant invite us into a spirit of serious play, laughing at ourselves while moving from self-reflection to action. Using enlightening exercises and rich examples, Breaking through Gridlock helps us become aware of the role we unwittingly play in getting conversations stuck. It empowers us to share what really matters - with anyone, anywhere - so that together we can create positive change in our families, organizations, communities, and society.

Web Resources

Setting Ground Rules - Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions, from the U.S. Courts. Use these ground rules to develop your own norms of civil discourse.

Managing Conversations When You Disagree Politically, from the American Psychological Association.

Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center provides guidelines and strategies for dialogue and access to the following two handbooks published by the University of Alaska: Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education and Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education.

Civil Discourse in the Classroom - Simple Approaches to Tough Conversations, by Lara Schwartz and Daniel Ritter, for the American Association of University Professors.

Civil Discourse in the Classroom - Tools for Teaching Argumentation and Discussion, from the folks at Teaching Tolerance. Based on lessons tested in diverse classrooms across the United States, this guide introduces educators to basic tools for teaching civil discourse. Although it is primarily designed for young adolescents, the curriculum can be adapted for students of any age.

The New York Times 2020 Civil Conversation Challenge for Teenagers, a really cool project from the New York Times.