The Art of Disagreeing Well: Examples & Exemplars

The Art of Disagreeing Well: Examples & Exemplars

Erin Payseur

Associate Director, Civic Learning Initiatives, Office of Community Engagement & Service, Baylor University

Controversy with Civility Series

Part 3: Examples & Exemplars

Controversy with civility. We need it. We need space to embrace the messy conversations. We need commitment to listen and to learn from each other. We need courage to engage in dialogue together and to work across difference. We need leaders who can bring others to the table and to guide us in finding a way forward together. So, in this final section of posts, it is to leadership that we turn our attention.

Several years ago, my campus had the privilege of hosting a conversation on public service between former US Congressman Chet Edwards and former presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson - Edwards, a democrat, and Gerson, a republican.

Their party affiliations quickly disappeared, though, as these two men spoke about their common goal of working for the greater good, of solving community issues and leading national efforts. Their mutual respect and admiration for each other was obvious.

I remember leaving the event inspired with a new hope and optimism about the potential of politics to work for that greater good, the potential of Americans to come together across partisan lines, and the potential for leaders who are able to cast that vision and lead that collective work.

I still am still hopeful of the potential for us to lead that change together, to be the change that we want to see in the world, and to work with others to create a community that works for all of us. I am still inspired by leaders who step out from the caustic partisanship in politics or the culture wars in society to respect voices on the other side of the aisle or the pew or the neighborhood.

It’s messy work. It can be long and frustrating work. But it is valuable work, necessary work, and worthwhile work. And since we cannot avoid controversy, we most definitely cannot abandon civility.

Here are several other recent examples of leaders who have done that work and have used civility to change conversation for the better within the political context.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, on The State of American Politics

"That’s the thing about politics. We think of it in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults. It can be about solutions. It can be about making a difference. It can be about always striving to do better. That’s what it can be and what it should be. This is the system our Founders envisioned. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s infuriating at times. And it’s a beautiful thing too."

The friendship between Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg & Antonio Scalia

“Even in that VMI case, Ginsburg was grateful for how Scalia disagreed: giving her a copy of his dissent as soon as possible, so she could properly respond. “He absolutely ruined my weekend, but my opinion is ever so much better because of his stinging dissent,” she said. Whether or not it was how Scalia saw it, for Ginsburg their public friendship also made a statement about the court as an institution: that it was strengthened by respectful debate, that it could work no matter how polarized its members were.”

What are some other examples?
Where you have seen controversy with civility at work?

Let’s celebrate that work together and learn from them.

We will all be better for it.
Our campuses will be better for it.
Our communities will be better for it.
Our world will be better for it.

Click here to see all posts in the Civility Series.

About the Author: Erin Payseur is the Associate Director of Civic Learning Initiatives at Baylor University. She has ten years of experience in civic engagement and higher education. As part of the Office of Community Engagement & Service, she develops sustainable frameworks for co-curricular service & social justice initiatives to guide students in considering their roles as leaders and citizens. She currently serves as the institutional contact for the NASPA Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement Lead Initiative. She has authored several articles and presented nationally on civic engagement, service, and leadership. In addition to her civic engagement work, she also serves as adjunct faculty for the leadership minor. She has a B.A. degree in Religion/ Philosophy from Presbyterian College and a M.Ed. in Higher Education & Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina.

Erin Payseur

Associate Director, Civic Learning Initiatives, Office of Community Engagement & Service, Baylor University