Editorial: Oct. 26

Editorial: Oct. 26

The 2011 January Series hosted Krista Tippet, a noted radio broadcaster, journalist and author. Tippet most famously hosts the radio show “On Being,” produced by American Public Media and broadcast on public radio stations across the country.

I’m an avid public radio listener, but until recently, I’d been turning the dial whenever “On Being” aired. I knew Tippet aimed to discuss the “big questions of human life,” and that discouraged me immediately. In my experience, talking about the “big questions” just results in people arguing and attacking each other.

But this past Sunday, I turned on the radio at 10:15 p.m. I knew “On Being” was airing, but I needed some company for cleaning my room. I thought I’d give it a try. The topic of the evening was “The Future of Marriage,” and Tippet had various marriage equality and traditional marriage preservation advocates talking about what marriage in our country will look like over the next decade.

To my great surprise, they had a productive and civil discussion going in which they agreed on some points, and disagreed on others. Tippet moderated well, asking probing questions and allowing each guest his own turn to speak.  They even came to a semi-conclusion: that gay marriage has recently gained a sort of moral consensus it never used to have.

No one interrupted, no one shouted, no one made sweeping generalizations or intentionally disrespectful comments. I was floored.

At the end of the show, Tippet identified the discussion as part of her “Civil Conversations” project. “Aha!” I thought. “That explains it. These guests and this host were intentionally aiming to have a courteous conversation.”

It’s revolutionary, isn’t it? The idea that we can discuss charged, touchy, polarizing topics without insulting each other? We’re so used to the yelling and name calling and accusations that we’ve forgotten how to listen to others and speak our own minds respectfully. The “On Being” website describes Tippet’s “Civil Conversations” as counter-cultural, and indeed they are.

The site also uses terms like “collect diverse wisdom,” “reframe our common thinking,” and “revitalize our capacity for civil society.” It describes its guests as people “transcending the vitriol and deadlock even as they continue to represent their own place on the spectrum.”

You know where this is going, don’t you? You’re reading Chimes, so you’re probably expecting me to call for this at Calvin. I won’t disappoint.

In this season of elections and proposals, let’s have civil conversation. At an institution that endorses a specific worldview but contains members with many different ones, let’s have civil conversation. With upcoming issues and decisions to make that will affect the future of our society and its members, let’s have civil conversation.

It’s a call to be counter-cultural we can all get behind.