Politics May Be Nasty, But We Can Still Be Civil

By Jolyn Johnston-Myers
October 06, 2016

With one presidential and the vice presidential debate behind us and the second presidential debate coming up this weekend, it seems like a good time to talk about civil discourse, whether in person or online in social media.

At the height of the national discussion surrounding who our next president should be, Kansas State University’s Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy is weighing in on how we can start a conversation that promotes understanding, while avoiding saying things we’ll later wish we could take back. The Institute’s Donna Schenck-Hamlin says that type of conversation begins with understanding what the term civility means.

“Civility is going to be intentional and has some modicum or minimum amount of awareness that the way you interact with someone should not be designed to make them feel insecure,” she said.

In fact, Schenck-Hamlin says purposeful incivility in regards to a political discussion can be destructive to democracy, causing people to stop asking questions and start practicing strategies of avoidance. However, she also says participants in a political discussion should expect there to be some disagreement.

“If we think that we always have to agree, we’re in trouble,” she stated. “So we have to find ways to show respect at the same time that we disagree.”

In politics, incivility occurs more often during difficult or controversial topics. One way to counter this and to show respect during a heated debate is to ask questions that reinforce your interest and commitment to understanding another point of view. Schenck-Hamlin says this can keep tempers from flaring and keep the conversation flowing.

Some examples of civility promoted by the Institute include listening respectfully and thoughtfully; appreciating differences in communication styles; and not cornering or hogging a conversation.

More information about the K-State Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy is available at