Mind your manners – civil discourse

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A detour from voice topics to something “meta”

When someone questions something I state, I may at first usually feel annoyance, anxiety, or confusion. I want to engage people but can be somewhat shocked when it actually happens! Lately, I have been questioning those feelings using Byron Katie’s four questions. It has helped me to calm the heck down quickly.

This week, there has been some lively correspondence with a colleague based on a a recent post of mine. He and I look at some of the same topics from different angles, and we challenge each other. We sometimes disagree. But after a flurry of emails, it has (from my point of view) settled down into more clarity on our differences, and a better understanding of each party’s sincere efforts to understand the subject at hand. This particular fellow is a gentleman in his correspondence, and makes a lively debate more constructive by keeping a cool head. He is better at that than I am, so I have learned from him. We have gone through this cycle a few times. Even though we’re both sensitive, minding our manners helps us to get the information we need to move on.

My takeaways on how to deal with a challenge to my ______ (scholarship, pedagogy, conclusions, opinion, interpretation, performance, haircut):

  • Inquire to yourself about what you are thinking that is creating your reaction. There is always a thought creating the feeling. Go through a process such as The Work to learn how to keep yourself more calm and open to possibilities.
  • Ask questions for understanding.
  • Answer questions from a challenger concisely and clearly.
  • Delay, delay, delay judgement. Proceed as if there is a chance that the person has a valid point, even when you don’t believe it yet.
  • Acknowledge common ground whenever possible.
  • Be nice.

Thank you, colleague.

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