An Educator Discusses Civility/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Posted on March 24, 2018


Dean Paula M. Cohen, of Drexel University, wrote an op-ed piece for the WSJ on March 24, 2018. Entitled “A Riot of Civility Erupts in Philly–Of All Places”, Ms. Cohen is for conversation and against name-calling. She holds monthly meetings with students and discusses issues with the thought of allowing differing points of view to be heard.

A recent discussion centered about the Super Bowl victory of the Philadelphia Eagles and the drunken reaction of some fans. The discussion led, in sequence, to group-think, and then party politics. The discussion offered differing opinions,expressed with openness and respect. Anger was absent from the discussions that were held. Dean Cohen concluded, citing William James, that in order to feel kindly towards one who has not always been perceived in a positive light, one needs to smile, make sympathetic inquiries, and “say genial things”. A hearty laugh can bring former enemies into a close “communion of the heart”. Inspired by James, Ms. Cohen concludes that moving from anger and recognizing that people express themselves in different ways can ultimately lead to compromise.

Parties in a dispute can often get firmly locked into their own positions. And why not? They “know” that they are right and the other party is wrong. But maybe not. Perhaps people perceive facts and conclusions from different perspectives. Perhaps there is no right and wrong in the absolute sense. At times, a smile and a hearty laugh can break the impasse. If not that, why not try for sympathy for a differing position and compromise. In the world of mediation theory, we know that as Win-Win. Mediate don’t litigate.