By Michael Witmer
I was extremely impressed by the people at my table ten days ago in Marion. I was particularly gratified by the people who pushed back a bit at the process, while demonstrating what Brittany called “commitment to the conversation.”
Brittany’s notion of commitment to conversation entailed more than staying at the table. It meant a commitment to the quality of the conversation. It happened after I tallied up the five winners in our little core value exercise. Britney asked if there was a better way to find the group consensus than just counting the number of people who listed a given core value on their top five list. It was a, “well duh,” moment for me, and the ensuing conversation we shared was far deeper and richer for her having probed a bit.
The lists that came out of the caucuses, of how we’d given offense and received offense, struck me as having a common thread: Each of the things that gave offense had the effect of degrading the civic conversation that was going on during the last electoral campaign. These included name-calling, fear mongering, using meaningless catch phrases that appealed only to emotions, mischaracterizing the other side’s positions, imputing the excesses and ignorance of a few radicals to everyone on the other side, just to name a few.
These are conversational sins, and they undermine conversational justice, whether they’re happening at a table, on the street, or through the mass media as the body politic tries to make up its mind.
One takeaway for me of this last weekend is that all Christians of whatever stripe should stay “committed to the conversation”; not just by keeping it going, but by working to protect the conversation, and to deepen the conversation, and to keep people engaged in the conversation.
I think of it as talk therapy for civilization.