“In Pursuit of Civil Discourse’’ was the theme for the second Democracy Day sponsored by LNP | LancasterOnline. The event, hosted Friday, Nov. 1, by the Donegal School District, was centered on “George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.’’ Students prepared for it by reading “Rules of Civility,’’ which informed the life of President Washington. Coverage of the event appeared in Sunday LNP and in Tuesday’s Schools section. Additionally, there are an extensive photo gallery and a video from Democracy Day on LancasterOnline.com.
Full disclosure: Members of the LNP Editorial Board were involved as organizers and facilitators for Democracy Day. So we can’t really be objective about our passion for this topic.
But we hope and believe everyone can praise those who took the time to participate in Friday’s event. We are in awe of the enthusiasm of the students from 28 public, private and parochial high schools and one home-school organization in Lancaster and Lebanon counties who participated.
We are thankful for the teachers and chaperones who accompanied each group of students.
And we are extremely appreciative of the community members — including some of our elected officials — who participated as speakers or discussion facilitators.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, who represents the 11th Congressional District, was a speaker at Donegal High School, as was Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument, who as a Mount Joy resident was on his home turf. The general session facilitator was retired federal Judge Lawrence Stengel, of the firm Saxton & Stump.
The messages they shared were important.
“Democracy depends on our ability to reason and to work with those who may hold very different opinions,” Smucker told the group, according to the Sunday LNP article by Alex Geli.
Aument, meanwhile, concluded his presentation with a video of the late Robert F. Kennedy, a Democrat, who said this in early 1968: “What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another.”
Kennedy was speaking immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968. Only a couple months later, Kennedy was also assassinated. But his message still resonates.
We must have compassion for each other. We must instill that virtue in our young people. That’s part of what Democracy Day was about.
We must be able to live and work with people who hold views that may run counter to our own. The growing polarization of views in the United States makes that task harder — but it also makes that task all the more crucial. Through compassion and civil discourse, we can keep our neighborhoods, our counties, our states and our nation from becoming irrevocably divided.
To that end, the students who participated in Democracy Day did admirable work in debating all sides of today’s most difficult issues — including the current impeachment inquiry, immigration, gun rights, and health care for all.
As Geli noted: “There was no yelling. No name-calling. And nobody was cast out for sharing differing opinions.”
That is how it should be.
It gave the student participants — perhaps our future lawmakers, municipal officers, judges, teachers and community leaders — practical insight into how civil discourse can work.
“It was a really good experience,” Manheim Township senior Trinity Tull told LNP’s Geli. “Just getting to discuss and look into things on both sides and how people can work together to come up with (solutions).”
Learning about George Washington’s rules of civility.
Seeking common ground.
Focusing on issues and not insults.
These are ideals to which we should all aspire. Smucker and Aument believe that holding to them will help us through this challenging time in America. Time and again, holding fast to rules of civility has buoyed our nation.
“We’ve survived all of those and come out stronger with every test we’ve been through,” Smucker said.
And some of our region’s young people got to experience that bright side of democracy firsthand Friday.