Concerns about overheated political rhetoric have risen to new levels after this week’s mail-bomb reports. ASAE and other organizations are urging a return to civility in the national conversation.
As federal law enforcement officials searched for the parties responsible for pipe bombs mailed to CNN headquarters and several high-profile figures in Democratic party circles this week, many commentators blamed increasingly virulent political rhetoric for inciting threats of violence.
Associations can provide leadership in encouraging more civil discourse, even among people who strongly disagree on issues, ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, said Thursday.
“Political violence and intimidation have no place in our democracy, which provides equal protections of human rights, civil liberties, and political freedom for all people. The rule of law must always prevail, and civility and respect for differences of opinion and thought must return to our public discourse,” Graham said in a statement. “Associations have always embraced these basic tenets: that we have common interests, we respect and value the opinions of all, and we work together to find solutions to problems we face as a nation.”
A polarized political climate has contributed to unprecedented stress levels in the U.S., according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey last year. Nearly six in 10 adults said they were anxious about political division and the future of the country.
“We’re seeing significant stress transcending party lines,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., when the report was released last November. “The uncertainty and unpredictability tied to the future of our nation is affecting the health and well-being of many Americans in a way that feels unique to this period in recent history.”
A return to respectful dialogue can help reverse that trend, according to the National Institute for Civil Discourse, an affiliate of the University of Arizona. NICD’s Revive Civility initiative—which launched last year and is running through the 2018 election season—”highlights the need to change the tone of our current politics and suggests specific things that each individual can do to help make that happen,” according to the initiative’s website.
Dozens of partner organizations—including APA, AARP, the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution, and a wide range of religious and civic groups—have encouraged members to hold local events to foster conversations about civility.
The campaign’s civility pledge invites Americans to help revive civil discourse by seeking out and listening to a variety of viewpoints in the news media and in their interactions with others. Pledge takers promise to “encourage and support efforts to bring people of different points of view together in our community to have civil and respectful conversations.”
Valuing diverse perspectives is a hallmark of the association community and essential to a healthy nation, ASAE’s Graham noted.
“Regardless of our individual political beliefs, we have a responsibility to each other to condemn violence or the threat of violence and accept that our differences do not detract from our shared purpose,” Graham said. “In fact, our differences are what makes us stronger.”