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What Ellen Degeneres and George W. Bush Can Teach Us about Civil Discourse

By Charles Snow posted on:
October 10, 2019

Twitter feeds on outrage. One of the latest outbursts on the social media site had an unlikely pair as the subject.

Last Sunday, Ellen Degeneres and former President George W. Bush enjoyed a Dallas Cowboys game next to each other. They talked. They laughed. They smiled.

To some, this was a true scandal, and they took to their keyboards.

When the backlash first hit, Ellen addressed the issue on her show. “A lot of people were mad,” Ellen said. “And they did what people do when they’re mad, they tweet.”

“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” she told her audience. “When I say—be kind to one another, I don’t only mean people that think the same way that you do.”

That wasn’t enough for the online mob.

One journalist scolded her for chumming it up with a “torturer and war criminal.” Other journalists caricatured her stance as “performative kindness” and “a demand for silence” from the LGBT community. Yet another claimed she is denying reality, adding emphatically, “This isn’t ‘Sesame Street,’ Ellen.”

Threaded throughout the criticism was a consistent message: Ellen is just another privileged person who has sold out to repair Bush’s post-presidency image. The only reason she can “be kind” to Bush is because she is now powerful.

Their friendship rejects a dominant cultural narrative

Reasonable people on both sides of the political aisle can disagree about President Bush’s legacy. And he and Ellen undoubtedly differ on many important issues.

But the friendship of two people as different as Ellen and the former president is something we should all celebrate. It shows that people from opposing groups can be friends.

It’s cliché to say that our society has lost the ability to disagree with one another in a civil way, but it’s true. We’re fractured. To many, disagreement equals hate. It’s left versus right, Democrat versus Republican, us versus them.

Aren’t you tired of this?

Three ways we can promote a more civil discourse

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can create a healthier culture of civil discourse. Here’s how:

1. Recognize that all human beings are created in the image of God and possess inherent dignity.

This is the foundation for civil discourse. Neglecting it leads to treating human beings as objects made for our scorn rather than persons made for love and deserving of our respect.

2. Love our neighbors.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We should treat everyone we encounter in the public square as we would want to be treated. This means rejecting name-calling, exaggeration, and mischaracterization of others.

3. Recognize that persuasion happens in personal relationships.

I’d be surprised to learn that anyone was ever persuaded to change their position on an important issue on Twitter. Or in the comments section of a news article.

If Ellen were to take her critics’ advice and repudiate her friendship with the former president, she would lose the opportunity to persuade him of what she believes to be true on issues that matter to her. And vice versa. Nothing challenges our views like sitting face-to-face with those who disagree with us, respecting their humanity, and civilly discussing—even debating—our differences.

When Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for the freedom of speech—we are advocating for the freedom of everyone’s speech. Not just those who agree with us, but those who disagree with us. Because the only way for us to have a meaningful debate as a nation is to hear from all sides.

And very few people benefit from a winner-take-all culture war. So, don’t give in to that narrative. Reject the impulse to sit faceless and nameless behind a screen and smear those with whom you disagree.

Let’s make sure there is room in the public square—and our lives—for people of good will on every side of the aisle.

Charles Snow

Charles Snow

Contributing Writer

Charles is a Tennessee native and lover of books and basketball.


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