Blog | Nov 29, 2012 | 6 Comments

Whatever happened to civil discourse?

In this small blog community and my WagnerWrites Facebook page, people have been unfailingly polite. But it seems that in our society overall, “civil discourse” as a public communication style has disappeared.

Restauranteur goes ballistic after a bad “review” on Facebook.

My friend, Lori Randall Stradtman, just posted a blog, Pigalle’s Gall: Eatery Commits Suicide on Facebook, about Boston restauranteur Marc Orfaly who repeatedly swore at and insulted a customer who complained about his establishment. Honest to God, I can’t even repeat a lot of what he said.  Oh, yeah, the customer was rude, too, though not to the same extent. But did she deserve that treatment? No. No one does. Ever.

The irony of Lori’s discovery of this controversy is that her new book, Online Reputation Management for Dummies, has just been released by, and this is a textbook case of what she teaches us NOT to do.

By the way, you’re online right now. In fact, you’re probably online a lot. You need this book. Here’s a cheat sheet to give you an idea of the value of it. (End commercial – unpaid!)

This got me thinking about how few of us know or care about “civil discourse.”

How do you tell American society has a problem? When you Google the topic and find a host of new sites and institutes dedicated to righting the wrong. That’s what happened when I searched on the term “civil discourse,” which wikipedia defines as:

…engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding…it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other’s moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant’s experiences.

Wow. That pretty much negates all public discourse in the arena of politics, which seems to have taken a page out of the WWF’s official Trash Talking Handbook and just edited it “up” a few reading levels. It probably also disqualifies a lot of family dinner conversation, too.

Just imagine if we as a nation committed to communicating respectfully.

First of all, we might learn from each other. Some of us might (gasp!) change our minds about issues once in a while. Eventually, even hatred might be diminished. How cool would that be?

Here are two organizations I found who are dedicated to promoting civility in communication. I wish them luck.

National Institute for Civil Discourse

Project Civil Discourse

Also, if you’re interested in reading even more on the subject, here is an excellent article: 5 tips for creating civil discourse in an era of polarization.

Comments? Questions? More horrifying examples?

(image: hikingartist on flickr)




Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


This is great, Claire! Honorary Chairs of NICD are former presidents Bush, Sr. and Clinton – and I understand Pres. Obama has invited Mr. Romney for lunch! What would it be like if each of us invited someone of the ‘opposite’ persuasion to lunch, and engaged in civil discourse about our nation’s politics?




That is a good challenge! I wouldn’t mind doing it in a group to get my feet wet. I would want to start with just listening an train myself to stay quiet and respectful. Hmmm…I’ll keep thinking about this.


Claire Wagner


I was thunderstruck by the emotionally rancid tone of discourse during the election. Never seen people so brash about their opinions. And I really lay some of the blame for rotten discourse to media pundits (of all kinds) who to seem to think that interrupting in order to hammer through a sound byte constitutes discussion of any kind.

It’s a shouting match where ears are closed: the worst kind of discourse ever, outside of physical violence.

I’m so grateful Obama and Romney kept it civil at the very end, when it really counts. It showed a lot of class and wisdom.

Thanks for your kind shout out for Online Rep! 😀


Rancid is the best description yet. Thanks for being here and helping us police ourselves all over the web, Lori.


Claire Wagner


Thank you for this post. I share the concern and, in my father’s memory, have created The Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project. You can go to our FB page here: and click on “about” to learn more.


Claire Wagner Reply:

@Dina Wolfman Baker, thanks so much for providing an additional resource. We need all the help we can get!


Dina Wolfman Baker


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