A Civil Conversation

Monthly letters to help put the work of the catechist of the Good Shepherd into the context of the larger world · from the archives

January 2016

by Catherine Maresca

After the democratic primary in 2008, one of the girls in my 9-12 atrium asked me whom I had voted for. When I told her, she announced to the room that I was “against” the other leading candidate. So I stopped her and asked her in front of the group what I had said. And what did that answer tell her? Did it tell her anything about my opinion of the other candidate? She had misrepresented me in a move typical of political conversation – taking a quote out of context, changing its meaning, and announcing to the world her misunderstanding. I didn’t argue with her, but I did push her to clarify what I had said to her.

This is another presidential election year. The children of our atriums will be privy to many, many sound bites by and about those running for president. Of these, some will be lies, some will be hateful, and most will not have the reflective quality of our interactions in the atrium. Can we hope that atrium interactions might indirectly model for children a way of thoughtful listening, kind speech, and care for those with whom we converse? Or will we resign ourselves to letting the political conversations influence interactions in the atrium?

Over the years our older children have often commented on politics in the atrium, and those comments tend to reflect the political style of discourse rather than life in the atrium. Can we stop and encourage the children to remember that all are made in the image of God, all deserve respect, and there are many points to consider with every question? Can we practice civil discourse?

As I listen to the political sound bites, I am dismayed by how poorly they fail as political discourse. In a country where many school systems do not encourage thoughtful conversation and time at home is taken up with screens there is often not enough opportunity to practice civil conversation, a basic skill of citizenship. Let’s be attentive this year to how we converse in the atrium. Let’s gently call attention to hateful speech, prejudicial statements, or bombastic opinions and model clearer, kinder communication. Let both adults and children be respectful of all points of view.  Let’s listen carefully, and communicate our opinions clearly and thoughtfully.

 We can also pray throughout the year for wisdom and kindness for the candidates as well as all world leaders. Sofia Cavalletti often pointed out that the atrium is not an isolated community; we are preparing children to participate in life in the church. We are also preparing them to be citizens. This may be a year to be attentive to that task as opportunities present themselves.

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