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Diamond: The benefits of civil discourse

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Anyone who writes and shares invites a response. Along with writing for The CJN, like many people, I share my thoughts in my own email blasts. And I am often required to share my opinions with the committees and boards I sit on, to assist with needed decisions.

I wear many hats. I have roles with larger organizations like UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and Hillel Ontario, as well as smaller ones like the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, which fights anti-Semitism in the academic world. And while I consider myself something of an activist, and right of centre, some consider me to be far too progressive, while others see me as altogether too far to the right.

What I have noticed is that when one wears multiple hats and is open to listening to many opinions, it can get rather confusing because there are a lot of very well-meaning people who are smart, passionate and pro-Israel, but who do not agree with each other. Disagreements generally revolve, not around core beliefs, but rather strategies or tactics. But even at that level, problems arise when the proponent of that tactic or strategy is so sure that he or she is correct, that the person cannot accept the possibility that someone else may have another valid point of view.

It gets even more complicated when one recognizes that there are multiple Jewish organizations all striving to raise funds and build their brands, each with their professionals and their supportive volunteers, some of whom often fall into tirades of passionate outrage when they feel aggrieved.

What is common to virtually all of these people is a desire to do good for the Jewish people. Many of our professionals give much more than they can afford to be paid by the rest of us. And most of us who volunteer or provide necessary funds do so because we believe passionately in the Jewish people. But how frustrating it is when someone else with the same objectives, and similar bona fides, simply disagrees with the strategies or tactics we support.

Disagreements can occur in any area of the Jewish community, but the best example occurs on campus, where many organizations focus their energies, in whole or in part. On campus, the welfare of Jewish students should be paramount, but delivering that welfare requires a focus on the students themselves, the administration, as well as academics. Campus is worthy of our focus because it is where future leaders are being educated, and where Jewish students are learning about the world outside of their Jewish day school bubbles.

I get lots of positive feedback about my articles and that is appreciated. But where I learn the most is from those who do not agree, but who are capable, despite their passion, of explaining their disagreement in a constructive way, without resorting to attacking others. Some of those conversations elicit real change in my thinking. At other times, both of us change our thinking. And sometimes, as reasonable people do, we listen but agree to disagree.

I remember many meetings where I entered with one view, listened to some smart people and changed my mind in whole or in part by the end of it. This is what is possible with civility.

What I do not appreciate is those who simply attack me or others, but do not listen, and are so sure of their position that there is no possibility of having a discussion. Their written and verbal rants are not going to change anything, because they cause others to get their backs up.

I admit to having engaged in such rants from time to time, when passion and fear have overcome me, but when I have done so, it seldom generated the positive outcomes I was looking for.

Talking in an echo chamber changes nothing. Engaging in civil discussion, listening and debating respectfully, as generations of Jews have done in our study of Torah, is what adds value. Now, more than ever, as divisiveness runs rampant, we need the outcomes from civil discussion.

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