Friday, July 1, 2011

Jeffersonian Civility

I had the opportunity to drive to a nearby town today to pick up two sewing machines my wife had taken in to be repaired. Of course - as on any journey of reasonable length - I turn on a podcast.

While the journey is not really a point of discussion for this blog, I think that the podcast is.

The podcast I listened to today originally aired on January 30, 2011, and was from the Thomas Jefferson Hour, a weekly interview with Clay Jenkinson as President Thomas Jefferson. Among other books and articles, Jenkinson is the author of Being Jefferson’s People – which is an interesting read, and rated 5 stars on Amazon. I recently discovered this podcast based upon the recommendation of another podcast that I frequently listen to.

The episode that I listened to today was episode 904, and was titled Civility – and it certainly struck a strong cord with me.

I have long been concerned with the extremes of political viewpoints that we are seeing more and more of – and their reflection in our young people’s manner and demeanor, especially in the area of discussion of current day issues. I have struggled with how to specifically address those concerns in an understandable manner – until I heard this podcast.

Perhaps one of the opening statements can explain it: But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” This is the essence of ‘civility’, of reflection before speaking (or writing, or podcasting, or being a really well-paid talking head on any of our ‘news’ cable shows) – and the threat to our democracy when that civility is not evident. If you watch the news today, or listen to politicians, or read blogs – you do not see that civility, that willingness to express your view, but to truly listen to an opponent’s view, and to come to a consensus.

Jenkinson expresses this much better than I do! Therefore…

I would encourage any readers of this blog to do two things: 1) consider spending an hour listening to the Civility podcast; and 2) to read Jefferson’s first inaugural address – at least the first paragraph – where Jefferson talks about the threat of extreme, uncompromising viewpoints to our unique American democracy. The election of 1800 had been a bitter one, and Jefferson saw the dangers of extreme views whose owners were not willing to listen, and discuss things in a reasonable manner with their opponents.

It was truly a voice of the past giving perspective to the events – and the temper of the people – of today.

I see the potential to use the ideas expressed in this particular podcast with our middle/high school students, whether in any current events discussion, or Social Studies classes such as Civics, American History, or Government. Other shows in the series (such as episode 906, the Rights of Man) could be used in World History as well. It could be an interesting discussion.

Somehow all of this seems so appropriate as we approach our July 4th weekend! Happy listening!

Your thoughts and reflections are welcome on this topic.


Thomas Jefferson, by Rembrandt Peale (1800), Wikipedia -

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