As a communication instructor, I try to promote civil dialogue by empowering students to find their voice and embrace their identity. I encourage them to speak with cultural pluralism when met with adversity.
Recently, however, my own sense of identity has taken a blow. I struggle to find my voice. My motivation to engage in civil dialogue has fallen lethargic, and I feel morally immobile.
Born and raised Catholic, my heart has learned to love, to teach, and to defend- yet I struggle now. My faith was once a seamless conversation I could carry on with anyone. I welcomed questions based on stereotypes, and I felt I could teach others about my faith (just as any other average follower could). I always defended politely.
Recently, a priest presiding over a Metro-East Catholic church was arrested for 16 counts of possession of child pornography. There was a possession of meth charge as well. My son attended this pre-school. We went to this church.
The Belleville-Democrat News revealed disturbing details- “leather chaps and straps” and “star-memberships to adult service sites.” The unfortunate and horrible stereotypes that Catholics are often teased or belittled for have been placed in the lap of my community.
Now I ask you, and I ask my small community, “How do we defend the credibility of our own civil voice when our group is under scrutiny–when we begin to become uncertain of our own moral grounding?
Kouzes & Posner in their 2011 book, Credibility, stress that a successful group effort be based on shared values. This might explain why a collective civil voice is momentarily baffled when one member of a team goes off the rails.
In similar cases, I see how others might relate to this type of bafflement- derailment if you will. I watched from a social media distance, the instances of protest when a St. Louis case was ruled in favor of a police officer killing a black man. As a military police spouse, I support peaceful protest efforts. I also want to say the actions of one police officer does not define police as a whole.
It is my belief that each one of us has first, those causes we feel connected to. Second, whether it is from a distance, or finely examined under a microscope, we have an obligation to use our voice to speak for those causes.
Our voices are crucial, and the ways we use them are important. Whether it be among neighbors, within in a classroom, or atop a media platform to the masses- how we use our voice can either motivate or rip apart the collective voices of our comrades seeking productive civic engagement.
One often feels compelled to teach others about their beliefs, and that in turn should be what civil dialogue is about. Teaching, not persuading. Teaching, not enforcing or oppressing. Teaching, not blaming. Yet the thing is, one must also believe in their cause in order to be effective. This is a natural foundation in any public speaking course, and it transfers quite universally in other sectors of communication.
Civic engagement is denotatively defined as, “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.”
I encourage all who have fallen lethargic as I have- your voice is needed for positive societal change. I call you to action. Rediscover your voice and continue speaking–promoting civil dialogue–because all of our voices are needed in order to effect meaningful social change.