Civil Discourse

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Rabbi Aaron Meyer and Westside School Interim Head Ted Kalmus

Fifty people gathered in Westside School’s theater on the Monday before Thanksgiving to talk about Civil Discourse and how we talk to children following a complicated, adversarial, and sometimes unkind election cycle. Thanks to all who participated in the evening.

Last night’s conversation felt particularly important. To me it served an important need we have as community – to share space and co-engage the complexity of the world our kids our in, think together about how we process confusing information or adversity, and what kind of language to use with our children.

The discussion between Ted and Aaron gave important words to feelings that people were having. Perhaps even more importantly, the breakout conversations gave people the opportunity to connect both personally and as parents.

One message that was striking was the conversation about what kids need in the future workforce. Research shows that building emotional intelligence and empathy is increasingly important, and connection to family through storytelling is a prime indicator of both social and professional success.

– Sydney Calvo, parent of fourth grade student Sally

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One of the things that really struck me last night is there is a big variance among us in terms of our comfort with talking with each other and our kids about our experiences, especially when they are uncomfortable or even unattractive. So, many of us are exploring how to do that now. Maybe that’s because of our distance or our privilege or the directness of impact, but whatever the cause we need to find ways to connect.

There was good discussion about what are “developmentally appropriate” ways to talk with our kids and how that maps out in terms of messaging and even action.

What are the ways we might actually put ourselves into Civil Discourse? Certainly we surround ourselves with common thinking, but how do we actually engage a broader diversity of people and thought with the intent to understand and not just the desire to change their minds.

I am struck by how many of us just want to tell our kids “it is okay.” Our goal should never be just to assure our kids but to help them be part of the struggle to make it true. Everyone has something they can do, which ultimately is a more empowering message than “it’s okay.”

– Rene Hawkes, parent of fourth grade student Donovan and seventh grade student Sophia