Quest for civility

There always will be honest and heartfelt differences of opinion when discussing the political issues of the day. What is important, however, is that those discussions be conducted in a civil and reasoned way. As the tone of debate in Bar Harbor has become more and more shrill in recent years, an effort has been launched to reverse that trend.

Any approach that sets as its ultimate goal the de-legitimization of opponents needs to be rejected. Civility requires that another’s motives should not be impugned. Nor should their right to hold contrary opinions be denied. Assuming that people holding different views are motivated only by self-interest or economic considerations is universally harmful. It is indeed possible, and probable, that people on all sides of an issue are motivated by the exact same goal – a desire to make their community a better place. There’s no single road to achieving that goal. Insisting there is only one way, or only one approach appropriate in every circumstance, erodes the likelihood of successful compromise.

In this new world, where people can surround themselves with those of common interest on social media sites, it is far too easy to see contrarians as “the other.” What is necessary, from the start, is acknowledging fellow citizens as political equals sharing a common interest.

Embracing the precepts of civility during open debates requires nurturing a less adversarial atmosphere. People should refrain from making faces, muttering under their breath or otherwise making obvious gestures of distain while someone else is speaking. As evident during recent meetings in Bar Harbor, there is room for significant improvement in that regard.

The civility workshop held earlier this month is definitely a step in the correct direction. A tip of the hat to those who are leading efforts to improve the level of civility in the conduct of the public’s business on Mount Desert Island.

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