Civility in Discourse: A Franciscan Approach (December 2011)
On January 10, 2011, a former Franciscan Action Network (FAN) colleague and I presented a workshop on Civility in Discourse to student leaders at Neumann University, a Franciscan institution sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The training incorporated role-play exercises from the Pace e Bene organization and illustrative stories from St. Francis of Assisi’s life.
Students learned about ways we choose to respond to violence, such as escalating, enabling, ignoring, or non-violently resisting. They applied these approaches to analyze behavior in accounts of a dispute between the mayor and the bishop of Assisi, antagonism between the people of Gubbio and the wolf who terrorized them, and Francis’ dialogue with Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt.
To introduce the topic, students first participated in a “barometer” exercise. In response to a proposed situation, students moved from one side of the room to the other to indicate greater or lesser degrees of violence. Prompts included, “A woman in a grocery store smacks her child for misbehaving,” “An intruder aims a gun at the resident,” and “Someone posts insulting language on another person’s Facebook page.” With each example, I asked a sample of students to explain their position. One student who indicated that insulting language of Facebook was not violent at all explained, “It’s just Facebook!”