Head's Note: 28 September

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  • Sage Ridge Spotlight
Tobin Bechtel, Head of School

Civil Discourse

The upcoming elections are barraging all modes of media. No matter our political outlook or cultural beliefs it is critical in a democratic society to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. It is imperative that we are open-minded and able to listen without rancor and speak passionately without fear of violence. This, to me, is what makes the emphasis on polarization by the media, by political parties and many politicians particularly worrying, especially because some members of our society are using antipathy, enmity, and even force to create fear and suppress the freedoms embedded in our constitution.

We need to be mindful of how we interact with each other, that we emphasize respect. In short, we need to expect and model civil discourse. This concept originates from Cicero (societas civilus) - he emphasized that citizens need to maintain standards of respect as they debated what was best for everyone in their city / society. This goes well beyond being polite; it expects everyone to engage in discourse that supports rather than undermines societal good. I agree with a USC professor who proclaims, “this demands that citizens listen respectfully to the claims made by others. Name-calling, threats and bullying behaviors do not meet the demands of effective deliberation.” 

Discourse should be held accountable to how much it contributes to the greater good. Democratic societies must be societies where arguments are debated and encouraged, and this is not always easy. To engage in a healthy political argument is to acknowledge the possibility that one's own arguments could be falsified or proven wrong. One place in our school where this comes to fruition is in the stellar participation of many of our students in Speech and Debate and Mock Trial. We recently learned that the National Speech and Debate League awarded our school the Leading Chapter Award for the Sagebrush (NV) district which is earned by less than 4% of schools nationwide. This award recognizes over 300 students who have embraced the cut and thrust of civil discourse through competing for our school.

As a community we should all feel safe to voice and explain our ideas and beliefs in an arena of civil discourse. Effective leadership in a democracy relies on all of us using reason for the good of all and challenging those that resort to suppression, vehemence or violence to force their way on others - even when it does not uphold foundational principles nor trust the intelligence of individuals. We need to delve into multiple perspectives in order to think critically through listening with an open mind. We need to understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right. This is embedded in our mission as we build the dispositions in our students to become “curious and confident citizens who embrace rigorous scholarship, respect the dignity of individuals, choose integrity, embody courage, cultivate compassionate community, and ultimately thrive in college and our global society.”  Our future depends on this.

Tobin S. Bechtel
Head of School

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