Civil Discourse – Anachronism or Art?

While the city of Culver City offering a seminar on civil discourse is an idea that is both needed and timely, I’m feeling slightly cynical. The people who would benefit most are unlikely to show up, and those that do attend are least in need of the education. 

The art of communication is so very challenged these days. 

If you have ever studied communication in a formal academic setting, there are textbooks that recommend certain tools. For centuries, people have studied the science of getting a point across, getting the answers you want or just being understood. I’m noticing a desperate lack of these things. 

About a decade ago, there were a few reliable gadflies (and no, it’s not an insult- it’s a valid, descriptive term) who turned up at every city council meeting, railed at the council for being stupid, corrupt, insulated and evil. These people were wealthy property owners that I had heard the city was having issues with in regard to things like sanitation regulation and industrial safety standards. Their regular appearances to cuss at the council were just  shaking a metaphorical fist in the direction of authority.

Some then-council members felt the need to push back, and and so the battle was joined. 

This particular swarm of gadflies fell away when a mayor possessed with the power of civility just killed them with kindness, and politely listened to all their complaints, and thanked them for their time. With no one to fight with, they got bored and stopped showing up. The benefits of etiquette were instantly understandable. 

Some people are not looking to communicate; they are just looking to quarrel. 

The gadflies we have now have communication skills so poor, they couldn’t persuade a third grader change their mind over a box of bubble gum. 

The number of people who show up to tell the council what knotheads they are, and then ask them to accept suggestions on policy – boggles the mind.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever take advice from people who begin the conversation by insulting me. 

As the school board proceeds to create policy (that’s the job, that’s why we elected them) they are now receiving hate mail that is seriously hair-raising. There have been articles in several national media outlets as to the number of local elected officials who are resigning because, while they want to serve their community, they are not willing to accept death threats as a part of the job. 

They shouldn’t have to – the fact that we have become a culture so violent and angry that people feel justified sending death threats over minor policy issues – is the concept of civil discourse now an anachronistic joke? 

The idea that people can have different views is somehow seen as ineffectual. There is only right and wrong. 

It’s ineffectual only because the authoritarians who want to do away with civil rights can’t allow local governments to foster civil discourse. If they can keep pulling the anger strings on potential violence, they can control you like a marionette puppet.

If you feel you must begin a conversation with any who has a different view than your own by telling them that they are evil or stupid, know that anything you say after that isn’t going to be heard. 

The mass psychosis of social media delivers hateful propaganda like a cigarette delivers nicotine; you may not taste it, but your nervous system felt it arrive. 

There are many ways to connect with people – even people you don’t agree with – for beneficial, constructive exchange. There are avenues for creative expression and positive interaction. While civil discourse may seem like a lost art, it’s not out of date. Bringing it back into style could benefit everyone. 

Dec. 4 – 10 am to 3 pm

Registration This event is being held virtually via WebEx. Please register on the City’s website

Judith Martin-Straw

Graphic by Bettye Barclay

The Actors' Gang


  1. Hi, Judith. I agree with Mr.MacGaffey: great article. I know you are a master of the internet and on-line news, so I am asking you this question. I recently read an article which was critical of the “recall” efforts against Mr. Fisch and Mr. Lee. It mentioned, among other things, that the recall effort employed “paid” signature gatherers. I have been involved in the recall since the beginning. I am not a paid signature gatherer. None of the people walking with me are paid signature gatherers. We are all volunteers. I attempted to respond to the article, but when I attempted to do so, the article was GONE. Was it your article or someone employed by PATCH? Did you see the article? Do you know what other reporter MAY have written it? Was it written by a non-reporter? Thank you for your assistance. Steve

  2. Dear Steven,
    I’m attaching the link to our original article here. CulverCityCrossroads has a syndication agreement with Patch, meaning they pay us to reprint our content.

    The article you refer does not state or imply that those gathering signatures are paid. It states that those distributing flyers are paid. I have had two flyers from the ‘recall’ organization delivered to my doorstep by commercial distributors, so I stand on this fact as a matter of my own observation.
    As stated in the article, Crossroads requests for information (numbers and data) have gone unanswered by info@culvercityrecall, and the one member of the organization who gave a name later contacted Crossroads and asked not to be identified. When this kind of info is hard to come by, it makes the recall organization seem to embody the ‘lack of transparency’ they accuse the council members of.
    You can always find an article on our site by using the search bar – Thanks for reaching out and commenting.

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