Guidelines And Suggestions

As members of a caring community we recognize that freedom of expression and freedom of belief are not only rights, but also privileges. We have a choice regarding when and how we exercise our freedom to share our ideas and beliefs with others. Before we speak, we might consider the following questions* as we reflect on what it means to engage in respectful dialogue:

  • Do I think about building a community that fosters the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual good of everyone?
  • Am I practicing the “Golden Rule”? That is, do I treat others as I would want to be treated?
  • Do I consider beneficence and autonomy? Beneficence means to act in a way that not only avoids harm to others, but actually benefits others. Autonomy is allowing others to make choices based on complete information.
  • When disagreeing with people, do I try to be respectful and avoid making personal attacks?
  • Do I listen openly and carefully to what others say, opening myself to opinions different from my own?
  • Do I examine myself for evidence of prejudice, and then work to overcome it?
  • Do I think about power: who has it, and how it should be used? Am I careful to use my own power for just and constructive ends?
  • Do I seek ways to be open to opinions and ideas without weakening my commitment to critical thinking, intellectual rigor and truth-seeking?
  • Do I resist the temptation to accept and spread rumor and innuendo?
  • Am I careful to consult and back up my opinions with evidence, even if it may mean taking greater time in the process?
  • Am I careful to credit others, rather than taking credit for works and ideas not my own?
  • Do I seek to evaluate students, teachers, colleagues, employees and co-workers honestly and fairly?
  • Do I represent the College in a way that guards and cares for the College’s reputation for integrity?
  • Am I careful to avoid all forms of violence and coercion in my relations with others?
  • When conflicts arise, do I take constructive action to resolve them?
  • Do I think carefully about the ways the College as an institution can be a force for justice in the world?

Sources: *Earlham College Community Principles and Practices 

Suggestions that evolve from the guiding principles for respectful dialogue:

  • Active listening increases the likelihood of being heard. Reflect back to make sure everyone understands the message being conveyed by the speaker. Define words and terminology.
  • You are more likely to be heard when you speak in ways that make it clear you are expressing your own view and take responsibility for it.
  • In general, “I-messages” are almost always better than “you-messages” and tend to be more effective. The use of “I-messages” encourages the speaker to own beliefs and positions and to take responsibility for these. Further, “you-messages” often leave others feeling accused, blamed or attacked, which can produce defensiveness and counterattack, and result in little positive change.

Avoid making sweeping generalizations that appear to speak on behalf of others or that make claims about what others think or believe. It is unlikely that all members of a group that share a common label will subscribe to exactly the same set of beliefs – unless it is a very small group.