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Volume XX, Number 2, Spring 2005 - California State University ...

Volume XX, Number 2, Spring 2005 - California State University ...

serious and complex

serious and complex problems. Such barriers may lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and insufficient commitment to motivate collective action. The confusion and misunderstandings resulted in deadlocks and an inability to make cohesive policy decisions, giving rise to single-issue interest groups and an explosion of communication channels. These actions have created additional barriers between us and others. Sometimes the barriers are created for privacy, other times they are created out of divisions that cut along political, social, economic, racial, and religious lines. We have become a splintered society. This splintering of the American experience has been labeled by David Frohnmayer (1988, p. 1), President of the University of Oregon, as the “new tribalism”: New tribalism is the growth of a politics based on narrow concerns, rooted in exploitation of division of class, cash, gender, region, religion, ethnicity, morality and ideology – a give-no-quarter and take-no-prisoners activism that demands satisfaction and accepts no compromise. Under this dynamic, more communication probably only generates more miscommunication and misunderstandings. Perhaps the solution demands a particular type or quality of communication. Possible Options Opening Up Spaces An important start toward regaining civility would involve efforts to “open up spaces for differences and manage those spaces with a concern for interpersonal justice and … shared humanity (Sypher, 2004, p. 258). To open up spaces for differences, communication would “… the vitality of any public square ultimately depends on how much we care about the quality of our lives together.” discourage antisocial behaviors that “undermine democracy, mute voices, hurt feelings, damage self-esteem, reduce worker involvement and productivity...” (Ibid). Such an approach would recognize that all communication is personal; that is, we make sense out of the world based on our own limited perspective. Because our perspective is limited, our ability to understand an issue fully means that we value and embrace our differences. For example, positions on the abortion issue have so hardened that any statement places an advocate in one camp (right to life) or another camp (prochoice). Political parties have created litmus tests to determine whether a candidate is fit for office based on the polar extremes of this single issue. Currently, positions on abortion appear to be softening. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican Governor of California, supports abortion rights. In December 2004, Howard Dean stated that he supported Democrats who advocated the pro-life position. He appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as part of his effort to campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Moderator Tim Russert asked if the Democratic Party should change its position on abortion. Dean replied no, but that the Democratic Party should change its position on persons who support the pro-life position. He argued that Democrats have much in common with persons who support the right to life. He asserted that, in many cases, both groups (pro-life and prochoice) are committed to providing prenatal care, health benefits for families, good schools as well as preschool for all children, etc. Clearly, Dean’s focus was not overpowered by a sense of difference; rather, he reframed the issue to find common ground. – Cornel West 4 CSUF Academic Senate Volume XX, Number 2

Political Correctness When language is used in a way that may not be considered politically correct, it is not our thoughts that are criticized but rather it is our language (Whillock, 1999). For example, an individual in local government in New York City and an elementary school teacher in the Midwest both used the word niggardly to describe inadequate budgets. The New York City government official was removed from his job, although later reinstated, and the school teacher was forced to write a letter of apology to her students to retain her job. In both cases, each individual used the word properly, but the word “sounded” like another word that is a racially charged. Our point is that a single word was used to judge an individual rather than the intent of the individual and/or what he/she was attempting to communicate. As a result, many things cannot be discussed and, because of a lack of dialogue, misunderstandings and social stereotypes remain. Cooperative Argument Each of our examples highlights a lack of willingness to engage with others as fellow human beings. Those whom we see as different from us are viewed as enemy combatants through a “win/lose” lens. In the words of Walter Hettich has been teaching in the Department of Economics since 1984. Robert Emry (left) is faculty emeritus, Department of Human Communication Studies, and co-director of the CSUF Center for Community Dialogue. Owen Holmes (right) is associate vice president, public affairs and government relations and codirector of the Center for Community Dialogue. Makau and Marty, we are pitted against each other “and people are successful only if they are ‘right,’ ‘win’ the argument, or manage to ‘get their own way.’ This stance affects our abilities to sustain reciprocal relationships and to make responsive decisions” (2001, p. 84). A central theme of our course “Communication, Community-Building and Civic Engagement” (Human Communication Studies 435) is cooperative argument. The goal of argument is not winning, but rather understanding and viewing “those who disagree with us as resources rather than rivals” (Ibid, p. 88). Dialogue Another central theme of our course is the importance of dialogue in our lives. According to Isaacs (1999, p. 1): Dialogue is a conversation with a centre, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater common sense, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and coordinated power of groups and people. Dialogue is a living experience of inquiry. It is a shared inquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting together. Spring 2005 The Senate Forum 5

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