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Let’s keep civil discourse in mind for 2020

At midnight today we will celebrate the dawn of a new year and a new decade, and with that traditionally comes renewed resolve to become “better.” Whether via weight loss, earning more money, a reduction in electronic screen time, paying down debt or volunteering more, the desire to improve some facet of our individual lives seems ingrained in our culture.

The practice of a New Year’s resolution can be traced back some 4,000 years ago to the ancient Babylonians, who made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return all borrowed objects at the beginning of a new year.

Throughout the ages, much has been written about our yearly resolve to change some facet of our lives hopefully for the better, but the predominant theory about New Year’s resolutions has been to keep our yearly promises simple and attainable.

It is in that spirit of simplicity, especially given the inevitable cacophony of voices that is likely to fill the television and broadband airways in the coming election year, that we hope at least some will resolve to be civil in our discourse and discerning in the information we ingest and share.

A study published in June 2018 by the Pew Research Center — a nonpartisan group that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world — asked 5,035 U.S. adults to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinionated statements.

For example, 24% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans surveyed thought the statement “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient,” was factual.

In fact, the survey showed that news consumers are more likely to perceive statements they hear or see as factual when those statements appeal to their own political side, even if those statements are actually opinions.

“Both Republicans and Democrats show a propensity to be influenced by which side of the aisle a statement appeals to most,” the study states. “At this point, then, the U.S. is not completely detached from what is factual and what is not. But with the vast majority of Americans getting at least some news online, gaps across population groups in the ability to sort news correctly raises caution.”

Consider this assertion when coupled with a second study in 2019, which shows many Americans believe that political debate has become less “respectful, fact-based and substantive.”

The 2019 probe shows that 85 percent of Americans see the current political discourse as less respectful and more negative.

We understand that there is not a simple solution to these issues. But we believe fact-based civil discussion of the issues can be achieved one person at a time.

Happy New Year!