Has incivility gotten out of hand?

If you follow the news, it looks that way: A congressional candidate slams a journalist to the floor. College students attack a speaker because they don’t want to hear what he has to say. A comedian thinks it’s funny to photograph herself with a mock severed head of the president. A man yells insults at a family because they are Muslim.

You might get the impression everyone is behaving badly when it’s an uncivil few. Unfortunately, infrequent but highly publicized actions have the power to create stereotypes. Suddenly all college students are delicate snowflakes bent on silencing speakers with a different perspective. All politicians are bullies who hate reporters. All protesters are vandals. All Trump supporters are intolerant.

The results of a Pew Research Center survey show how powerful stereotypes can be. Pew surveyed Democrats and Republican about their opinions of the Americans in the opposite political party. Seventy percent of Democrat respondents said Republicans are more closed-minded compared to other Americans. A third of Democrats said Republicans are less moral and intelligent. Meanwhile, half of Republicans think Democrats are more closed-minded. Nearly half said Democrats are more lazy, dishonest, and immoral.

How can this be? Perhaps these opinions are a reflection not of actual people but stereotypes forged from media coverage of people behaving badly. The key to dispelling these stereotypes is simple, but we squirm at the thought.

Americans of differing political views need to talk to each other — offline.

The best way to start that conversation is by finding common ground outside of politics. To help get going, here’s five conversation starters:

  1. What is your favorite food?
  2. Where would you like most to go on vacation?
  3. Who are some of your heroes?
  4. What do you most want for your children?
  5. If you could turn a hobby into a job, what would it be?

What else could we find that we have in common, if we just take the time to ask?

Finding commonalities isn’t the only way to forge common ground. Real get-your-hands-dirty projects like these also create a sense of unity:

  • Cooperating on a project such as preparing a meal together
  • Building something for charity
  • Working together on a community clean-up

Here’s several examples of activities that dispel stereotypes and bring people with political differences together. Such unity creates a space where people can disagree respectfully.

Finding common ground doesn’t mean you have to change your perspective. It just means better understanding where other people are coming from. And when we understand each other, we can have a better conversation about good, effective solutions to today’s challenges — both in and outside of government.

What are your thoughts?

We’ve been creating and repairing this space for centuries. One of the exceptional qualities of America is its diversity and unity. Our national motto is E Pluribus Unum — out of many one.

So can we bring it back together?

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