Series of Forums To Preach Civil Discourse

It’s no secret that in recent years, especially since the 2016 presidential election, that some of us can’t get along when it comes to talking about social or political issues.

That’s a major reason why George Anderson, Pastor of 2nd Presbyterian Church in Roanoke and Katherine Fralin, founder of the Batten Leadership Institute at Hollins University, joined forces recently to launch a series of public get-togethers, “Can We Even Talk?” where civil discourse is the order of the day.

The first forum was at the church recently on a hot button topic – the future of fossil fuels – featured the civil tone that the group is looking for and drew more than 100 people, so at least several more will be planned said another one of the organizers, Suzanne Gandy.

Fralin was invited to be the co-facilitator for the first event. “It’s a conversation, not a debate – an engaged, informed conversation across different positions on difficult issues,” she remarked. Several presenters used that model at the first forum.

Fralin said the idea for the series was discussed before the 2016 election but after the Trump upset victory in November “it became very apparent that was [a prime motivation]. I hope that people can shift ever so slightly on their current positions or at least be open to a perspective or an idea that they had not heard or understood. Listening is a very active thing. It’s not passive.”’

Fralin said four values have been established for the forums on civil discourse: truth, respect, empathy and openness. She wants audiences to engage in that empathy and openness. At least where the first forum on fossil fuels was concerned, it appears that goal was met. “It’s a challenge and really interesting. There’s an element that we can get triggered – these are difficult conversations and we each have our own values.”

In wrapping up the forum Dr. Anderson said, “Let’s remember that just because politicians talk about these issues does not mean they belong to politicians.  These issues are ours.  They are human issues that involve our lives, our loved ones and our future.”

Gene Marrano