WATERLOO — How do you disagree without being disagreeable?
That question is at the heart of the Revive Civility Iowa community conversation that came to Hawkeye Community College on Tuesday.
The programs, planned for throughout Iowa, are sponsored by the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University and the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
Event participants were asked to write down community issues. Topics they pointed out included politics and City Council issues, diversity and racism, social media and other people not having an open mind.
“We’re not going to solve the community issues tonight, we’re not going to even try,” said Jeff Kluever, assistant director of the Ray Center.
Kluever did address how to manage issues through conflict resolution techniques.
“With the midterm elections coming up, we thought it was important to have a few sessions to start talking about strategies for civil discourse,” said Amy Smit, associate director of administration and communications.
The event included practice sessions and information on building relationships and connections, achieving a win-win negotiation and communication techniques.
“I think that you don’t have to get sick to get better,” Smit said. “ ... It’s really easy to talk about civility, and the first thing you do is point a finger to the other guy. So this is also a good refresher because it’s not always the other guy.”
The National Institute for Civil Discourse has partners in Maine, Ohio and Arizona that offer similar programs in those states.
“It’s very easy to just stand your ground and believe you’re right,” Smit said. “It’s important to talk about what you do when you come across someone that you vehemently disagree with.”
Participants were encouraged to engage with one another and restructure statements like “you’re a hypocrite” to be less aggressive.
Bruce Clark with Character Counts and the Cedar Valley Committee helped put on the event.
“There have been some civility problems in our community as well as across the state,” Clark said. “I think it’s important because we’ve had some problems.”
The event isn’t the end all, be all for civility, but the beginning of a process, Clark said.
“I’m not sure two hours can turn things around totally,” Clark said. “It’ll probably require a few more sessions to keep us down the right path and help us learn how to be more positive in our discussions.”
Waterloo City Council member Steve Schmitt and Cedar Falls City Council member Rob Green both participated.
“I think there’s a lot of incivility in society in general and in particular in local politics, and I just wanted to hear some thoughts and perspectives on that,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said it’s important to keep in mind people you disagree with are still people.
“I think that’s critical. I think all of us could do that, myself and other people, too,” Schmitt said. “I think having sessions like this on an occasional basis, a regular basis would be a good thing for everybody.”