Freed Speech

No matter whom you voted for this election, many of us can agree on one thing—the tone and tenor of political discourse seems to have taken a turn for the worse.

Today’s political conversations are rarely civil and constructive, and neither side of the political spectrum seems willing to change.

So following this year’s election, Target and the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences hosted a special event in Minneapolis to try to change that. Freed Speech—an open dialogue on civil discourse—aims to be the platform where people can share important thinking rather than entrenched positions.

Along with coats, anger was also checked at the door. The interactive evening explored how to make discourse more authentic, and how we can practice civility in all facets of our lives.

CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien moderated a panel of leaders from various backgrounds and expertise at the event, including: president and CEO of Main Street Strategic, Laura Brod; executive director of the Citizens League, Sean Kershaw; essayist, rapper and speaker, Dessa; and media ethicist Wendy Wyatt.

Below, Soledad shares insights from “Freed Speech.”
What do you think the role of media is in America’s political discourse?
Our role is to help make that discourse thoughtful, truthful and tenderhearted. Political decisions affect people in profound ways, and we in the media can make sure that the conversations that take place around issues keep real people in mind. The media should also seek the truth and demand that politicians are held accountable when they bend the truth. We can inform and educate the public so they can better evaluate what they are told by politicians seeking their support. We can answer their questions and voice their concerns in the public arena so a thoughtful discussion can occur in the political arena.

How do we educate the next generation of leaders on civil discourse?
This is almost like teaching your children to be polite. You lead by example. By demanding civility from yourself and owning up to it when you fail to reach the high bar you set for yourself. And, we in the media can also refuse to give voice to speech and discourse that is nasty, hurtful, or without truth.

How can corporations and other institutions influence civil discourse?
By not giving platforms to discourse that is not civil. We have a first amendment in this country that allows people to say what they want. There is no law that says you need to repeat it or offer it your private stage.

What does civility mean to you?
Thinking about how everything you say and do affects others before you say or do it.

From all your years of interviewing people from around the world, what have you learned about maintaining civility during heated debates?
If others go low, lift them up. Don’t go low with them. And if they refuse to be thoughtful and polite, shut it down. Something that’s entertaining isn’t necessarily good for you.

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