What do we mean when we say Sequim is a friendly community? How accepting are we, really, of those from widely different backgrounds, experiences, beliefs or convictions—and how do we know that? How can we build bridges of true understanding to strengthen and improve a sense of community that is inclusive, welcoming, tolerant, and fair? What is required if we want civility to have real meaning and impact in our community?
One of the common themes at the heart of what we all love about Sequim is that we see it as a friendly, open, welcoming place. It’s certainly a quality all of us would like to see preserved, protected, and enhanced. Doing that depends on each of us—as individuals we have to practice as well as talk about tolerance; we have to practice as well as talk about vigilance against intolerance.
…we have to practice as well as talk about tolerance; we have to practice as well as talk about vigilance against intolerance.
Putting our ideas into action or figuring out the best way to go about it, however, isn’t always easy. This is where the core precepts of civility, civil discourse, and civic engagement come into play, and where a closer look at them can provide helpful insights.
If civility, in the context of a community, entails being courteous and polite to each other in our roles as citizens of that community, it means we have open minds. We listen to each other for the purpose of learning and understanding different perspectives, engaging in conversations about those differences (as well the similar views we might share), and finding common ground. In other words it means we commit to a reasonable dialogue among ourselves—to thinking things through carefully as we discuss them. Having an open mind means we don’t leap to conclusions, whether about a particular viewpoint or a particular person, based on insufficient or unexamined information. Having an open mind means we are mindful of our own assumptions and, more broadly, about what those assumptions are based on, including how our minds work—how we think.
Being open minded does not, however, preclude making a judgment or decision—it doesn’t mean we blindly, thoughtlessly (without thinking), accept something. Nor does it mean that we cannot have strongly held views about something. The stronger our view is, though, the more thoroughly and carefully we have to examine it to make sure it is understandable to someone else and is defensible, which means we can explain how and why we have come to it.
Civil discourse means keeping our emotions in check, especially when it comes to talking about views or ideas we feel strongly about and want to defend passionately.
The stronger our view is on something—the more we’re inclined to defend it passionately—the more important it is to express it calmly and reasonably. Civil discourse requires that we hold those emotions in check so the conversation doesn’t degenerate into shouting and the issue being addressed isn’t lost in a fog of rudeness, anger, or personal insults. The same holds true for those hearing strongly held views being expressed. An open mind listens to learn, to understand, to discern where the real disagreement lies so that it can be resolved if possible.
The term “open hearts” or the trait of “being open-hearted” has many different interpretations. But when thinking about a community, it really signifies someone who is comfortable extending a welcome, offering compassion, sharing joy and sadness, good times and hardship even with those we don’t know well…or at all. It goes well beyond mere friendliness; it is the willingness to connect with others. Most importantly, it is the commitment to bridge the gap between “us” (whoever that may be) and “them” (whoever that may be), or prevent such a gap from existing in the first place. A community whose citizens have open hearts is a community whose different racial, ethnic, religious, social, economic, and even political groups live harmoniously; they see themselves and other groups as part of a larger, cohesive community.
We can’t let fear close our minds, our hearts, or our arms.
When the people of a community have open minds and open hearts, they naturally, logically, open their arms as well. Open arms, in this sense, means that, as a community, we have no fear of any “other.” It means we don’t regard race, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation (among other distinguishing traits) as threatening in any way. It means we welcome those who are different from us as full partners in our community. It means we aren’t afraid of such differences because we recognize that people from different origins, backgrounds, and life experiences can bring important new perspectives to our community. And those perspectives contribute to a more diverse, productive, successful civic engagement.
Here in Sequim we can’t pretend we are a highly diverse community. We’re not. We can’t pretend we’re immune to bigotry and intolerance. We’re not. We can’t pretend we always behave the way we should when it comes to those who aren’t “like us”—whoever that “us” is. We don’t.
But here in our community, what we recognize and cherish is that Sequim is a place where open minds, open hearts, and open arms is the rule, not the exception; it’s a reality, not merely an aspiration. It is a place where the qualities of friendliness, openness, inclusiveness, are deep, not superficial. It’s a community willing, able, and committed to preserving protecting, and enhancing those qualities.