Table Talk: Promoting Civil Discourse
Look to the front page of your newspaper and you will find a common theme every week: free speech is being obstructed, hate speech is tolerated and the lines that divide family and friends are growing deeper every day. Hyper-polarization and incivility in the expression of opinions is setting the country back. According to a poll by the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), 95 percent of Americans believe rhetoric is a divisive problem that is preventing the country from moving forward. America has a communication problem.
This issue is impacting the lives of every American. However, it is an issue that can be resolved, beginning with open communication and understanding. We must bring civility back into conversation, find common ground, become better listeners and work to understand one another. Growing up, as we sat around the dinner table, my parents would ask me my opinions on current events and social issues. Accordingly, the value of being mindfully aware of the world and respectful of differing opinions was instilled in me early on. I developed the Table Talk platform as an extension of this valuable time spent at my own dinner table. I generate these same types of conversations – promoting awareness of the issues that affect our lives, respectful expression of our positions, and celebration of the diversity among us – whether it be at family dinners, on social media, in the hallways of our high schools, or even, during snack time in the Kindergarten classroom. These discussions need not be always focused on political or social issues, rather, discussions of life, one another, and our world.
In encouraging conversation, I address three key items: listening, understanding, and expressing. As a member of both the College Democrats and the College Republicans at my University, I listen to many points of view, which allows me to better understand. Understanding is imperative to forming thoughtful opinions. When it comes time to express our thoughts, we must do so respectfully. A conscious effort towards these three points will result in fruitful civil dialogue.
I present this important message to people of all ages with the same framework. First, I begin with a ‘Table Talk Task’ through which I challenge my audiences to initiate a conversation with someone who may look and think differently or come from different life experiences and socio-economic backgrounds. I ask them to discuss a topic that they might not agree on and during their conversation, focus on trying to understand their partner and view the topic from the other’s perspective. Secondly, I invite my audiences to post about their ‘challenge’ experiences using #TableTalk to share the results of their productive conversations. Bi-weekly, I post ‘Table Talk Tips’ videos that discuss how to become a better communicator. Whether we are discussing the importance of proofreading a tweet and considering its implications before it is sent, or tools to become a better listener, I encourage my audience to take on the role of a conscientious and understanding citizen.
My ‘Table Talk Tools’ school curriculum asks educators to give a monthly homework assignment for each student to read the newspaper at home and clip an article on a topic of interest. Students bring the article and their summary to school and employ Table Talk Tools to discuss different perspectives on topics. Students are not only learning valuable communication skills, but also learning how to read and evaluate current events, a skill I learned growing up around the dinner table that has set my career in motion. As Miss Wisconsin, I am working to implement my “Table Talk Tools” curriculum in classrooms across the state, fostering the next generation of great communicators.
In sharing my experience with audiences, I discuss the value of my dinner table conversations and how those conversations instilled in me certain traits that allowed me to be a more informed citizen and accomplish my personal and professional goals. As a congressional intern for the Speaker of the House, I used the listening, understanding and fact-checking skills I developed early on to help me succeed in my job. The ability to communicate information clearly and as intended is one of the most important skills students and adults will carry into the work place.
My goal is to bridge the communication divide and make Table Talks a new trend – for all ages, in all demographics, and among all cultures. Civil discourse is key to making progress and encourages us to be more aware of the world we live in. Change can start with just one conversation, much like the first one at my family table years ago.