In a ‘C’ of Change

civic engagement

In the wake of recent activities and the events of the past few years, it is hard to ignore that discourse is a familiar thread in the U.S. cultural fabric. From marriage conflicts to political opposition, there are many times we find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue from a spouse, political party, or ideology. Healthy discourse, or a logical, factual, and non-emotional discussion around an issue is a positive way of engaging in conversations about viewpoints unlike our own. A willingness to share and listen helps facilitate education and understanding. It brings us closer to a healthier democratic society with a better understanding and appreciation of those who do not share our same backgrounds or priorities.

This year, the American Bar Association’s Law Day theme Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration highlights that discussion, discourse, and disagreement make America tick. These fundamental elements of our society come at no cost and are accessible to everyone who is willing to give them a try.

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Change starts with the individual when it comes to community enhancement. As students, civics class is where we are formally introduced to the structures and responsibilities of each branch of our government. At this stage of our education and life, it is essential to understand how we are governed and what our role as a citizen plays in it. Active civic engagement is available in many forms, from voting to volunteering, but its most impactful form is taking an interest in community issues and educating yourself about them; this helps us take positive action in support of the people around us and directly connects us.

With lack of community engagement, confusion about the law, and distrust of others, civility, respect, and tolerance for those with opposing views or backgrounds can be quickly forgotten. We have seen many media images, from TikTok to the evening news, of people arguing with each other over dogs in parks, right to life, or bathroom access; at times, these heated disagreements turn violent and deter efforts for community growth and prosperity. Participating in respectful discussions allows for exchanging ideas and perspectives, leading to a better understanding of diverse viewpoints and conflict resolution.

Change does not happen in a vacuum. When gathering as individuals, groups and organizations with diverse perspectives, collaboration plays a key role in better problem-solving and addressing the unique needs of our society. It provides community members the opportunity to contribute to the decision-making processes and informs and educates them on the policy issues and laws that impact their everyday lives.

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Discourse is hardly new to our society. The 1950s societal issues were consumed by racism and segregation, the ’60s were focused on the Vietnam War and assignations of our political leaders, the ’70s were focused on the sexual revolution, the ’80s brought equal rights and drugs, the ’90s ushered in LGBTQ rights, the discourse centered around global warming and the financial crisis, and in recent years the pandemic. Even though each of these was a challenging time for our nation, these issues forced conversations and inspired changes around how our legal, political and societal systems operated. In many ways, Civics, Civility, and Collaboration are the principles that help define the solutions to bring us through the most challenging times we have faced and will continue to face as a society.

We will never live in a society where we all agree. It is important to understand that cultural discourse is complicated, ongoing and reflects the ever-changing dynamics of American culture and the varied contributors that make up the fabric of our nation. It is not a zero-sum game when it comes to building a more democratic society – it is time we double down on the fourth C: Community. Through local involvement and healthy discussion, we all win and drive society forward in ways that future generations will thank us for.

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