Civil Dialogue and Citizenship

Navigating Our Deepest Differences

Lesson I. What is Civil Dialogue? Let's Practice

Step 2. Civil Dialogue Defined



Civil dialogue can help us to bridge divides across deep differences. Dialogue is not debate. In a debate there is a winner and a loser. One person wins by putting forward a better argument, while the other loses. It is intrinsically competitive and is about establishing difference. In a dialogue there are two winners. I learn from you, you learn from me. We may compromise or agree to differ. It is profoundly reciprocal, and acknowledges similarity and difference equally. 

You can think of dialogue in this way:

An encounter with those who might have different opinions, values and beliefs to my own, dialogue is the process by which I come to understand the other’s lives, values and beliefs better and others come to understand my life, values and beliefs. (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)

Here are some guidelines for Civil Dialogue:

  1. Choose a mindset of openness and curiosity 
  2. Listen generously
  3. Seek to understand, not debate
  4. Allow others to speak for themselves–do not tell others what they believe
  5. Reciprocate by respectfully expressing your point of view
  6. Acknowledge similarity and difference equally

Practicing civil dialogue is a responsibility of citizenship and it respects human dignity.

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Lesson II. Step 2 of 7


Learn more about how to promote the 3Rs — rights, responsibility, respect — in your school and community.