Gracious Engagement

An Arlington Parent Coalition parent and a transgender activist recently had a conversation marked by courtesy, respect, and mutual goodwill. It ended with a handshake. The APC parent walked away with some food for thought, and hoped the same was true of the other party.

However, the Arlington Parent Coalition has also received a number of vitriolic diatribes and character slurs from commenters who disagree with our concerns. For this reason comments have been turned off here. When it comes to discussions about controversial topics a good rule of thumb is, "If you can't be nice, be quiet."

Few people look forward to conflict, and the ones who do aren't usually respectable and winsome conversation partners. But conflict is bound to come as we engage this debate about what's appropriate and safe for our children at school. If you find yourself in an ideological discussion with someone who does not agree with you, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • No one is right about everything they think. There's something you don't know about your opponent's point-of-view. While we want to effectively communicate our own perspectives, we must be courteous enough to listen to other perspectives as well. Even if your conversation partner is 100% wrong about everything s/he thinks (which is unlikely) you'll have shown that person the respect of being heard.

  • Keep the conversation focused on the facts and issues. What is your core message? ("I want to teach my own children about nuanced and complicated subjects, not relinquish that right to a teacher I may not even know.") Don't let yourself get pulled into tit-for-tat arguments that lead down unproductive rabbit trails. Redirect conversations as necessary by saying, "That's interesting, but what I'm really concerned about is..."

  • Avoid generalizations ("You people all..."; "Everyone knows..."), character judgments, and emotional reactions. Everyone has a valid reason for what they believe and every person is an individual. Don't assume you know something about someone you just met (or haven't met) simply because of their associations with a certain group. Focus on the subject, not the person. Show respect always, even if it doesn't seem deserved.

  • Take the high road. You may be verbally attacked. You may be lied about. You may be treated with disrespect or contempt. What others do or say indicates nothing about you or your position. How you respond says a lot about you. Remember that given enough rope most people hang themselves. Let others live with the consequences of their words while you walk away with your integrity intact.

Above all, don't be afraid. Sadly, there's been a lot of bullying and suppression of debate on this topic. But we live in a country where freedom of speech is a protected liberty. You have every right to hold an opinion contrary to what may be prevalent or popular, and you stand at the front of a long line of activists and advocates who pushed for change in their communities and cultures: Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, William Wilberforce, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai. Honor that legacy, and speak out with confidence, integrity, and above all respect.