Respect, Not Agreement

We can agree to disagree. Let's just be civil about it

By Alicia Crank December 16, 2023

Alicia Crank

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

“Can we all get along?”

While not an uncommon phrase, it became part of the American fabric on May 1, 1992, when Rodney King posed this question at a press conference after his beating from four police officers went viral. I was a senior in high school at the time, and it was both a joke and a serious question. As divisive as things felt at the time, I could not imagine that more than 30 years later, the answer would seemingly be a resounding “No!”

For me, it has been both frustrating and fascinating to see the devolution of civility, its contribution to our current culture wars, and how universal needs have become partisan. Opinions about education, health care, housing, career development, hunger, and much more have gone from being basic and foundational to being determined by party lines. How did we get here?

I posed this question on social media recently, and the answer most people gave: social media! A wonderful tool in and of itself, it has also given all of us a voice, a greater sense of importance, and an easy way to yell, argue, disagree, without much penalty. You can be anonymous, create your own false narratives, submit claims of being correct without fact checking, or actively attack others that have no connection to you or your livelihood.

Just about everyone has a political leaning, but I remember there was a time where middle ground existed, civil discourse was encouraged, and basic human needs didn’t immediately require knowing who someone voted for (or didn’t). Being someone who would work with “both sides” was lauded, but not so much today.

I’ve run for local office a few times. As a candidate, I learned quickly that the partisan/nonpartisan dance is not for the faint of heart. Many local offices are nonpartisan, but the endorsement process will indicate what your leanings and beliefs are — or so I thought. A person or group can endorse a candidate, whether that candidate asked for it or not. In the case of the latter, the candidate can end up being attached to that person or group’s ideology even when they’re not.

This is also the case with policies. My experience over the past few years has demonstrated that a person will look at who is lauding the policy, as opposed to the substance and viability the policy is trying to resolve. Protests and counterprotests have risen to the point of physical harm. Jan. 6 is a perfect example, as is the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Having gone from being a candidate for office to convening discussions and debates with elected and community officials, I’ve learned that the partisan/nonpartisan dance is more of a waltz, and a lot more complicated than I imagined. I recently engaged in a few conversations with a woman running for a nonpartisan office for the first time. She believed that garnering support from both major parties would be a good thing, following the notion that representing all constituencies is what someone in a nonpartisan role should be doing. Yet, she has found herself vilified on varying levels from members of these groups. She now wonders if her desire to be a representative for all was a mistake.

This devolution of civility has come at a high cost. Fewer people participate in civic engagement or civil discourse for fear of being personally or professionally attacked, and in very public ways. Harassment includes name calling on public news forums, emailing people at their place of work and threatening to talk to their bosses about them, or making derogatory statements about a person’s spouse, partner, or family member. Bad behavior has become more commonplace and is either punished or forgiven based on — you guessed it — political leanings.

The question now is: How does one turn culture war into culture conciliation? I submit that it starts with modeling civil discourse, a willingness to listen and take in new information, even if it doesn’t result in a change of mind. Disagreement doesn’t have to end in divisiveness. At best, a change of mind can help find commonality. At worst, you can agree to disagree. Somewhere in between, it creates learning opportunities through active listening.

This is the mindset I lead with, both in my community and civic service, as well as through our programs and events at Seattle CityClub. My personal and professional mission is to ward off the fear of uncomfortable conversations and embrace new and different factual information. Getting everyone to agree may be an unattainable task, but creating and fostering respect for one another is an admirable goal.

Join me.

Alicia Crank is executive director of the Seattle CityClub.

Follow Us