Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world: who we serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are.
—Tweet by Brené Brown, research professor and bestselling author
In Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue (Ginsburg and Tyler, 2021), through the friendship of the late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, we are reminded of the power of civil discourse and embracing opposing viewpoints. As colleagues, they strengthened their work by debating their vastly different philosophies. Society, companies, and strategic approaches for developing solutions to complex challenges thrive on brainstorming and diversity of thought.
There has been recent discussion nationally and within our profession about how we communicate with each other—especially over social media. It is reasonable that we may passionately disagree with a statement of a colleague. Should the disagreement become personal, the difference in opinion becomes an obstacle to future collaboration and obviates previous collegiality or appreciation for past contributions. How can we decrease negativity and character assassination while increasing unity and creating space for multiple perspectives?
I’m not shy about heated debate or passionate discourse, but when people get crazy or rude, that’s a buzz kill. There’s got to be a better code of conduct, some basic etiquette.
—Mos Def, American rapper, singer, song- writer, and actor
As we recommend to tinnitus patients, perhaps we can practice mindfulness when encountering statements with which we disagree—go within to identify what has upset us and, through understanding ourselves, follow the guidance of the Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh (1991) to transform anger into something positive.
Often when someone expresses a viewpoint different than ours, we react as though we have experienced a personal attack. We lash out to avoid unwanted outcomes. Angry reactions to a different opinion may be a fear reaction. Perhaps we are afraid of change. We may be afraid of being embarrassed or of being weak or incompetent if our viewpoint is challenged.
We may feel threatened, by not just the idea we disagree with, but also the person who espoused that idea. Instead of weighing the substance of the statements, we ascribe bad intent to the person presenting the alternative viewpoint, triggering our limbic system and initiating fight or flight mode. We either engage in emotional disagreement or distance ourselves from the individual, even if we have a long history or have had previous respect for their contributions.
Nhat Hanh recommends practicing the “non-attachment from views” to be receptive to the perspectives of others. Similarly, in Social Construction in Context (2001), Kenneth Gergen refers to civil discourse as the “language of dispassionate objectivity.” In Gergen’s view, critical elements of civil discourse include having respect for others, not questioning the judgment of other participants or their moral worth, avoiding hostility, and not being antagonistic.
We need to in this country begin again to raise civil discourse to another level. I mean, we shout and scream and yell and get very little accomplished, but you can disagree very much with the next guy and still be friends and acquaintances.”
—Leah Ward Sears, Jurist and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia
We can model our discussions on civil discourse to create a space for safe dialogue. As a member of this professional community and with a focus on building a shared future, I commit to celebrating the fact that there are multiple viewpoints, honoring and respecting those with the courage and conviction to introduce divergent ideas, and recognizing that, as a group, we make better decisions based on diverse perspectives.
Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.
—Mary Parker Follett, American social worker and management theory pioneer