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Engaging in Civil Discourse Among Unitarian Universalists

Unitarian Universalists hold different beliefs, come from different backgrounds, and experience the world through different personal identities. This is a source of strength to our faith, but it can also lead to tension or even strong disagreement when discussing personal views. We are fortunate to have our seven Unitarian Universalist Principles as a foundation for how to address our differences of opinion.

In an effort to promote civil discourse among ourselves and in our wider communities, the Unitarian Universalist Association offers the following tips, using our Principles as a guide.

First Principle: Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Avoid using language that undermines another person’s dignity. Name-calling and sarcasm can quickly turn respectful disagreements into personal attacks. Consider whether your language personally demeans an individual in an effort to undermine his or her credibility in a discussion.

Second Principle: Unitarian Universalists affirm justice, equity, and compassion in our human relations.

Try to allow each person a fair opportunity to voice his or her perspective. Shouting (whether in ALL CAPS text or verbally), interrupting, and—in online discussions—flooding message venues with your comments in an attempt to drown out other voices are all behaviors that undermine this important principle.

Third Principle: Unitarian Universalists accept one another and encourage spiritual growth in our congregations.

Keep in mind that debate and discussion should be a productive venture; a respectful exchange of ideas helps each of us learn as we continue our spiritual journeys. Using hurtful language or treating others unfairly inhibits this growth.

Fourth Principle: Unitarian Universalists engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Remain open to ideas and perspectives that are different from your own. Imposing your views upon others without respectful acceptance of their right to disagree can hamper everyone's ability to continue a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. If convincing others to adopt your view is important to you, and you find that you are not successfully doing so in a public discussion such as via social media, consider asking the person involved to continue the discussion in a less public venue such as email.

Fifth Principle: Unitarian Universalists affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in our congregations and in society at large.

Keep in mind that a democracy works best when all people are welcome to participate fully in the process. While individuals have the right to decide for themselves the most appropriate way to participate, we should consider how our comments might make others feel unwelcome or discourage them from participating, such as purposely excluding them from a conversation or talking about them when they're not present.

Sixth Principle: Unitarian Universalists work in support of the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

A good, quick way to measure whether you are engaged in respectful civil discourse might be to ask yourself whether what you are saying or typing is actually in service to this goal. It's easy to get caught up in a heated discussion; the Sixth Principle can serve as a touchstone to bring us back to an open heart and mind.

Seventh Principle: Unitarian Universalists respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

In times of disagreement, it can be especially helpful to remember our connections to each other and to the larger world. Our words affect not only the person to whom we're speaking, but anyone who hears or reads our comments, and their attitudes and actions toward others. Using language that alienates, ostracizes, or belittles ignores our common bonds and disrupts our web of existence—sometimes deeply.

As Unitarian Universalists, we strive to be our best selves. Our communications with one another should reflect that. We hope these tips will help you accomplish this.

For more information contact pw_specialist @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, May 16, 2012.

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