By Tim Hayes []

Whatever happened to rationality?  Talking, not shouting?  Listening and considering, not curt out-of-hand rejection of an opposing view?  How did discourse become so discounted?

There must be a third way, if we hope to address some of the big problems.  It is my hope this Thanksgiving that Americans begin to get serious about communicating with each other in a more civil dialogue that has as its goal not victory over the other guy, but solutions that help everyone.

From the huge issues like the growing federal debt, budgetary problems at the state level, environmental policies and practices, and airport security tactics, to the smallest neighbor-to-neighbor squabbles, there must be a way to reach solutions by reaching out to the other side.

Communication is not surrender.  Communication is not domination.  Communication is the beginning of a path to resolution of problems.

Recently, I attended a presentation given by the head of human resources for a global company.  She talked about the diligence and determination of her enterprise to encourage employees to form task forces as they saw fit.  These small groups addressed various issues by giving individuals with similar interests and concerns a voice.  From international diversity and cross-cultural issues to gay and lesbian acceptance, and at least a dozen more areas of interest and conflict, this company truly walked the talk. 

By giving people a chance to find others with the same perspective, and by encouraging them to make their feelings and questions known in a true spirit of respectful dialogue, this worldwide organization not only routinely reaches consensus, but it also raises the level of that dialogue, widens the viewpoint of all of its employees, wins award after award for the quality of employment, and most important, provides a model of what good leadership communication can accomplish.

Turn on any “talking heads” show on cable TV, any hour of any day, and you’ll find that those heads aren’t really talking, they’re screaming, they’re interrupting, they’re treating each other with as little respect as possible.  The goal clearly is not to achieve dialogue, but to beat up anyone with an opposing view and “win” the debate.  You’d find more tolerance and respectful interaction at one of Michael Vick’s old dogfights.

What a shame.  And what a shameful indictment of our national discourse.  When issues become polarized, the path to workable solutions gets much more difficult to find, much less follow.  Back in the early 1980s, Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill would take diametrically opposed stances on issues as the debate began, and would announce their positions clearly and forcefully.  Yet they had enough respect for the nation to meet as gentlemen and respectful colleagues, hash things out, and eventually move forward with a compromise solution.  They knew the value and the power and the impact of good leadership communication.

Let’s be thankful this Thanksgiving that we live in a nation where this level of dialogue can occur.  And let’s hope that more of our leaders and more of us truly use that right in the proper, respectful, constructive, rational, tolerant manner.  Let’s work to find the third way out of our problems by communicating more productively.

Copyright 2010 Transverse Park Productions LLC