We live in a society in which we have lost the ability to disagree, in which differing perspectives have become synonymous with hatred and disrespect. As Father Peter Gyves said, “We live in a society that is broken… we are better people in this country than what we are hearing from leadership at the top.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This was the topic of discussion at our community meeting, held in downtown Boston and streamed live on our website for viewers across the country. From the Theology Department of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences at Boston College, we were joined by:

  • Kenneth R. Himes, O.F.M., Ph.D., Professor of Theological Ethics
  • M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D., Professor of Systematic Theology
  • M. Cathleen Kaveny, J.D., Ph.D., Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Law and Philosophy

The panelists discussed why our national conversation has become so destructive, examining the current state in which there is an unwillingness to consider other perspectives and life experiences. The panelists discussed prophetic language around injustice as part of our civil discourse and the idea that condemning injustice is not disrespectful, but that contempt for your neighbor’s ability to have a differing viewpoint from your own is.

The panelists also discussed whether anger has an appropriate place in civil discourse, agreeing that the act of anger itself is not inappropriate when it is constructive for the greater good. Professor Copeland commented “you have to get angry about fellow American’s not having access to clean water or education. Your anger moves you to do something.”  Professor Kaveny discussed the need to “recapture and nurture a sense of what our common agreement is to shape our anger and be mindful when there is a violation of our common concerns.”

There was also a discussion around how to confront things for which you are not responsible, such as historical atrocities in American history. The panelists discussed the narrow sense of accountability in today’s culture and the need to share in other’s contributions to both the past and the future. 

The audience in the room and viewing online asked questions about how to approach civility in situations in which disagreements cannot be overcome. The panelists offered the following strategies that we can bring into our own our interactions with others to spread civility:

  • Practice self-reflection
  • Look people in the eye
  • Find common ground in shared projects that allow you to develop relationships beyond your disagreements
  • Recognize our shared humanity
  • Research your opinions and consider the perspectives of people who are different from you
  • Embrace collaboration
  • Accept that a person is more than just their objectionable idea
  • Surround yourself with people who hold you to a common standard

Professor Copeland ended the conversation by saying that “caring about others is patriotism in its purest form.”

You can view the discussion in its entirety on our website here. We hope that you can join us for our next community meeting about income inequality on May 15, 2019.