As a local community, a tri-state region and a nation, we have a full plate of opportunities to recover together from the extraordinary circumstances we have faced over the past 12 months.
We have just come through a divisive national election cycle. We are, hopefully, on the cusp of overcoming a deadly pandemic. The economic fallout from the pandemic has damaged our economy and heightened the impact of income inequality. And, long-simmering social justice issues have reared up and spilled over.
I have confidence that we can address each of these challenges as a community. But doing so will take our individual and collective resolve to change the tenor of public discourse. We must work together to address these challenges. We must acknowledge that there will be divergent opinions and that disagreement is part of the process, and actively, together, get to the task of arriving at solutions.
I humbly offer several principles to guide our public discourse:
1. Respect our fellow citizens even when their opinions differ from ours. Disagreement and argument is part of the process of finding solutions. If we avoid demonizing those we disagree with, we can argue with passion, be heard, be civil and move toward compromise solutions.
2. Facts Matter. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a U.S. senator and adviser to President Richard Nixon, said it best: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts.” Discerning the difference between our dearly held opinions and facts, is critical. One of the most important leadership lessons I learned early on is that it was critical to set my opinions aside while I investigated solutions, and not to resent it when others challenged my opinions. Wherever we get our information, a healthy skepticism is useful. That skepticism should make us look into the credibility and reliability our sources and encourage us to reject unreliable source material, seek and accept the truth when we find it.
3. Civility is important. It is fine to disagree, not so good to do so disagreeably. Avoid the urge to think the people with whom we disagree are bad people. The fact is good people can hold opposing views without demonizing one another. It was refreshing to hear the professionalism in dialogue from Dr. Anthony Fauci as he publicly acknowledged his trust in one of his critics as a professional but went on to adamantly disagree with his opinion.
“First of all, I love Jerome Adams. He’s really a terrific guy. We worked so well together during the Trump administration,” Fauci said. “I think he’s incorrect on this.”
4. Seek to understand the perspective of the people with whom we disagree and acknowledge the value of their perspective.
5. Finally, be willing to compromise on issues for the greater good. I fear at this moment we tend to lock in on our own concerns and neglect to comprehend the value of arriving at solutions where everyone gains something.
To be sure, the points above are aspirational. For me, humility is key. I often need to remind myself in the heat of the moment of a disagreement, to stop, take a breath and open my thoughts to a wider array of potential outcomes.
If we do this, we can find solutions that work for all of us in our community. Bringing together diversity of thought in civil discourse will lead to better policies for everyone and move us forward together, in the tri-state area.
Shields has been chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville since 2010. An Iowa native, he earned an undergraduate degree from Graceland University and law degree from the University of Iowa. His email address is [email protected]